The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association joined an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the closure of Richards-Gebaur Memorial Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.
AOPA's appeal, which complements a petition filed late last year by Friends of Richards-Gebaur Airport, centers on the FAA "releasing" Kansas City from its obligation under the Surplus Property Act to maintain the airport, which was an Air Force base until 1985.
"If a circuit court decision stands, a dangerous precedent will result, creating a slippery slope for federal agencies to abuse their power and discretion by rewriting laws that clearly and unambiguously set forth the intent of Congress," said Kathleen Yodice, AOPA counsel.
She expects a decision from the high court in the next few months to consider the appeal.
Kansas City acquired the airport under the Surplus Property Act, which requires FAA approval for different airport uses and also requires FAA approval if the local government wants to close the field. Additionally, Kansas City received federal grants for airport improvements.
The FAA can approve an airport closure only when it's "necessary to protect or advance the interests of the United States in civil aviation," the law says. The city had asked the FAA to release it from the federal obligations and use the land for a truck and rail freight terminal after closing the airport. The FAA granted the city's request in December 1999 without finding that doing so was necessary to advance the interests of aviation.
AOPA first filed a lawsuit protesting the closure in May 2000 with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota. In June one year later, a three-judge panel for the court ruled that the FAA acted properly. By then the airport was closed. Although the runway is still in place, the remainder of the property is a freight facility today.
After the suit was rejected, AOPA subsequently requested an "en banc" rehearing before all eight judges of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court because the FAA's action was "contrary to law, an abuse of discretion, and arbitrary and capricious," the association said at the time.
Closing the airport provides "the precedent for the eradication of numerous similarly situated general aviation airports throughout the nation. This can only weaken an already threatened aviation transportation structure," Yodice told the circuit court.
The eight judges subsequently denied the request for a rehearing in September 2001, and Friends of Richards-Gebaur filed its petition with the Supreme Court before year's end. That suit is separately based upon the environmental impact of freight-moving operations.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., is the world's largest civil aviation organization with 380,000 members—more than half the pilots in the United States.