A Pennsylvania court has overturned a 1998 state law that restricted which airports could receive federal and state funds. The law (Section 2210 of the Pennsylvania county code) was targeted at just four airports, and it singled out AOPA's birthplace, Wings Field outside of Philadelphia.
"This is a significant decision not only for Wings Field, but for other airports as well," said Phil Boyer, AOPA president. "Had this law remained on the books, it could have set a precedent in other states and given local agencies the power to interfere with the national air transportation system."
(A similar law is under consideration by the New Jersey legislature, while New York already has a law on the books that requires local authorities to approve a request from a privately owned, public-use airport for state or federal funds.)
The law, in essence, gave local officials in Pennsylvania's Montgomery County the power to veto improvements to a federally or state-funded airport. Specifically, the law was aimed at preventing improvements to Wings Field. The airport is an FAA-designated reliever airport to Philadelphia International Airport and a key element of the national airport system.
Wings Field Preservation Associates (which owns and operates the privately owned public-use airport) petitioned the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to declare Section 2210 unconstitutional.
Because of the national implications of the law, AOPA joined in a "friend-of-the-court" brief supporting the petition, along with the National Business Aviation Association, the National Air Transportation Association, and the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania.
AOPA told the court that the state law would have a national impact interfering with the federal scheme for a safe, efficient, and integrated transportation system. The association said that inexperienced and uninformed local authorities could thwart that national plan, and there was no way to challenge their decision.
The court agreed, saying the law would have permitted "municipalities to ignore the federal policy...that airport funding decisions be based, in part, on safety and security needs and the needs of the national airport system."
The court also stated that there was no rational basis for the statute. "We can conceive of no legitimate state interest in giving any municipality total control over airport funding."
AOPA's Boyer concurred, saying, "A single community can't ban an interstate highway, and a single community shouldn't be able to block the expenditure of federal funds to improve an airport that's part of the national system."
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the world's largest aviation organization, was founded at Wings Field in 1939. More than 12,000 Pennsylvania pilots are AOPA members.