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Court agrees with AOPA, SJC night curfew discriminatoryCourt agrees with AOPA, SJC night curfew discriminatory

A federal district court has agreed with AOPA's contention that the nighttime noise curfew at San Jose (California) International Airport is unjustly discriminatory against general aviation. The ruling (issued June 13 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) came in a lawsuit filed against the city by Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison. San Jose barred Ellison from flying his Gulfstream V jet at night because it weighed too much, even though it is quieter than many smaller jets.

AOPA filed a friend of the court brief in support of the suit, arguing that nighttime flight curfew based on aircraft weight was illegal under federal law and a violation of city agreements ("grant assurances") with the federal government.

The court agreed, saying, "the unreasonably discriminatory nature of the city's noise program is best demonstrated by the fact that twenty Gulfstream V jets taking off at the same time would make less noise than one Beechjet 400, an aircraft exempt from the curfew."

But while the court said the curfew was likely inconsistent with federal law, it declined to overturn the ordinance. (The suit didn't specifically ask for the ordinance to be overturned.) The court noted that Ellison could be granted a waiver from the curfew and that San Jose had "abused its discretion" in denying a waiver in the past.

In September 1999, AOPA filed a formal complaint against the weight-based nighttime curfew with the FAA.

"The curfew is still discriminatory," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "If the San Jose ordinance is allowed to stand, it opens the door for banning other classes of aircraft like Bonanzas and Cessna 210s. Noise ordinances must be targeted at specific noise levels, not arbitrary categories of aircraft."

The FAA has not yet acted on AOPA's complaint.

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