Prompted by December challenges from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the FAA has informed two Florida airports that they violated FAA mandates regarding aircraft operations.
The St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners and the city of Vero Beach imposed harsh restrictions on touch-and-go landings, which the FAA now says were implemented without due process.
AOPA quickly wrote letters to the operators and the FAA in the middle of December decrying the limitations at St. Lucie County International and Vero Beach Municipal as violations of federal funding agreements. The restrictions limited touch and goes to the hours of 9-5 weekdays and 10-2 on Saturdays and blocked all touch and goes on Sundays and federal holidays.
Vero Beach immediately responded to AOPA, stating its curfews were voluntary. St. Lucie officials haven't responded to AOPA's December letter, nor have they responded to a second AOPA letter dated February 1.
St. Lucie County attorneys did finally respond to the FAA on January 31. The FAA's February 4 reply to that letter said, "While your letter states that the touch-and-go limitations are voluntary and the resolution is not a legally enforceable document, the information provided to the airport users does not explicitly state that compliance with the timeframes is not mandatory."
The FAA asked St. Lucie County to "inform any recipients of the County's resolution, in writing, that the policy is voluntary in nature and that there are no legal consequences associated with the resolution. In the future, ensure any materials clearly stipulate the voluntary nature of the restriction."
The FAA told Vero Beach in a separate letter that "any publications produced by the City [should] expressly communicate that the procedures are voluntary in nature." Vero must "modify any existing publications that do not indicate the touch-and-go policy is voluntary" and similarly stress the voluntary nature of the restriction in the future, the FAA said.
"We appreciate the FAA's response and support," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "To ensure the future of general aviation airports, the agency must continue to aggressively pursue any violations of airport grant agreements."
Each airport is home to a major flight training school, Pan Am International Flight Academy at St. Lucie in Fort Pierce, and FlightSafety Academy at Vero Beach. The FAA's Airport Improvement Program has granted more than $9.4 million to St. Lucie and more than $9 million to Vero Beach since 1990, according to AOPA.
A touch-and-go landing, which is commonly flown by flight school students, is considered an aeronautical activity as defined by an FAA airport order. The FAA explained to both Florida airport operators that accepting the grants became "a binding contractual obligation between the airport sponsor and the Federal government." A grant assurance states that the airport will be made available "as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical activities," the FAA said.
Any limitation to airport activities must be based upon FAA-specified research, and the findings of that research must be submitted to the FAA for review and determination of appropriateness, the agency said. Neither airport conducted research nor submitted findings to the FAA before issuing the December directives.
AOPA has told St. Lucie and Vero Beach officials that general aviation pilots would willingly take voluntary steps to reduce airport noise. "AOPA has long been an advocate of 'flying friendly' to reduce the impact of our members' aircraft operations on the local community," Dunn said.
Flying Friendly, an AOPA-produced video, has been distributed to thousands of airport managers, FBOs, flight schools, and pilot clubs throughout the country. The video demonstrates pilot techniques that will help to minimize an airplane's noise footprint.
AOPA Pilot magazine (the largest circulation general aviation magazine in the world) also publishes articles on how pilots can reduce their noise "footprint," most recently in the August 2001 issue. (The article " The Noise Police Are Here" is available online.)
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 28,000 Florida pilots.