New San Francisco banner-towing ban usurps FAA authority

City’s action the latest local bid for airspace control

August 1, 2013

A newly passed ordinance banning aerial advertising over the America’s Cup boat races on San Francisco Bay should be rescinded, AOPA said in a letter to the California city.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance July 23, asserting authority to prohibit flights that display signs or advertising devices in the airspace over the race course area during the America’s Cup. The races began in early July and will end Sept. 21.

However, authority to regulate activity in the nation’s airspace rests with the FAA, not local officials, AOPA said in a letter to David Chiu, president of the city’s Board of Supervisors.

The ordinance amends the city police code “to prohibit the use of aircraft, self-propelled, or buoyant objects to display any sign or advertising device in the airspace over the 34th America’s Cup course area.” It passed on a 6-5 vote, with Chiu among supporters.

AOPA opposes the implementation of such a ban and strongly urged the city to take immediate action and rescind the ordinance, ensuring the FAA retains sole authority over regulating airspace, said Melissa McCaffrey, AOPA senior government analyst for air traffic services.

“We would suggest the Board look to the FAA as the primary resource in all airspace management and authority,” she wrote.

Local rules, national airspace?

The city’s action is the latest in a hodgepodge of local boards’ bids to become airspace enforcement agencies—an unrealistic idea panned most recently by a Pennsylvania judge who dismissed a fine levied against a banner towing operation by a municipality. As that case was being disposed, Austin, Texas, began studying the feasibility of passing an aerial-ad ban over musical performances and other events.

In both instances, AOPA wrote letters opposing the bans, advocating for the FAA’s sole jurisdiction to regulate activity in the nation’s airspace. AOPA has protested San Francisco’s action to the federal agency, McCaffrey said.

AOPA also recently reminded pilots of the need to check notams frequently for temporary flight restrictions and other procedural requirements in the vicinity of the America’s Cup races.