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AOPA researching appeal of Richards-Gebaur Airport decisionAOPA researching appeal of Richards-Gebaur Airport decision

AOPA is researching legal issues to decide if it will ask for a rehearing on a court decision allowing the closure of Richards-Gebaur Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.

After almost a year of deliberation, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, ruled earlier this month that the FAA had acted properly in allowing Kansas City to close Richards-Gebaur Airport and convert it into a rail-truck freight center.

AOPA filed a lawsuit last May challenging the FAA's authority to "release" Kansas City from its federal grant assurances and surplus property deed restrictions. (In exchange for federal assistance, airport sponsors promise to keep an airport open.) Kansas City had asked the FAA to be released from those promises. (See "AOPA files precedent-setting suit in federal appeals court to protect general aviation airports nationwide"). Two other groups filed a suit contending the FAA hadn't properly followed environmental regulations.

The court heard the two suits together and ruled that the FAA had fully considered the environmental effects of closing the airport.

But the court declined to rule on the larger issue raised by AOPA, that being whether the FAA had the authority to release an airport from its grant assurances. The court said it wouldn't consider the issue because it hadn't been raised with the FAA first. AOPA contends it did make the argument to the FAA.

Because a decision on that issue would set an important national precedent, AOPA is now considering asking the appeals court to rehear the AOPA's lawsuit "en banc," meaning all of the appeals court judges will consider the case, not just a three-judge panel.

"We know this will still be a difficult argument to win," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president for regional affairs. "But if we win, the message will be clear. If you promise to maintain an airport, you have to keep your promise."

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