The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has told the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, that its plan to sell surplus airport property for an industrial development is not in the best interests of the airport. AOPA also believes the city's fast-track efforts to sell the land are against the law.
Companion AOPA letters from June 2001 and recently February 6 say "it is our belief that a long-term lease of airport property rather than a sale of the property will yield a greater return to the airport and will provide a greater benefit to the airport over time."
Newspaper reports claim that FAA Administrator Jane Garvey (a Massachusetts native) has pledged to personally assist and expedite the process of releasing some 51 acres of airport land for sale.
"If that's really the case, the administrator would be ignoring the law," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs.
The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), which became law in 2000, says that any request for a release, amendment, or modification to an existing federal airport agreement to be considered by the FAA must include a public process. AOPA worked closely with the U.S. Congress to enact the provision as part of AIR-21.
"The law establishes a public process and requires notice, not less than 30 days, before waiving a condition that would otherwise require property to be used for an aeronautical purpose. It is our firm belief that this federal process must be followed."
Comments received from the public during that 30-day period must be considered in the decision-making process, according to the law.
AOPA told Lawrence that the original intent of the land conveyance by the federal government to the city was that the property in question be used for airport purposes. "To assure and uphold the intent of the federal obligations, when an airport sponsor requests a property release, the underlying reason must lead to a benefit for civil aviation," the association said.
"With the long-term lease option, the airport will be assured an income over a long period of time as well as ensuring compatible land use appropriate to ensuring the future viability of the airport," AOPA's letter said.
The 380,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. pilots are AOPA members, as are some 7,400 Massachusetts pilots.