AOPA has put the city of Santa Monica, California, on notice that plans to curb noise by restricting access to Santa Monica Airport (SMO) oversteps its authority. The city proposal is based on the false assumption that an FAA advisory document carries the weight of law. Local governments' misunderstanding of what are and are not federal aviation regulations, and what those regulations permit, is a nationwide concern for AOPA and its members, regardless of what type of aircraft they fly.
The city is considering a proposal by the airport commission that would restrict access based solely on an aircraft's approach speed, on the theory that faster aircraft make more noise. Violations could lead to civil and even criminal proceedings against operators of higher speed aircraft, such as turboprops and corporate jets.
In a letter sent to the mayor and city council, AOPA Vice President for Regional Affairs Bill Dunn said, "...the implementation of any airport restriction is solely within the purview of the FAA and not the city. The authority of the FAA in this area is well documented in a number of federal court cases."
At the heart of the matter is the airport's classification and FAA Advisory Circular 150/5300-13 Change 6, on airport design. The airport commission apparently believes the AC carries the weight of law. However, as its name implies, the advisory circular is just advice on designing an airport. The classifications listed in the AC suggest aircraft landing speeds for each classification.
In the letter, Dunn also points out that if, as seems likely, part of the reason for the proposed restrictions is to control noise, the proposal falls short in that respect as well. "[T]he Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990...provides a very specific process that must be followed before any access restrictions to a publicly funded airport may be put in place," said Dunn in the letter. "Santa Monica has not yet met the requirements...."