The Airport Authority in Naples, Fla., cannot be allowed to impose restrictions at Naples Municipal Airport that discriminate against any user, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has told the Federal Aviation Administration. In a legal brief filed this week in support of an FAA ruling, AOPA said that neither the Naples Airport Authority nor any airport sponsor that accepts federal airport improvement funds may be exempted from contractual grant assurance obligations to make the airport available to all users.
"AOPA strongly supports the FAA's aggressive enforcement of airport grant obligations," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We have a national system of integrated airports—a system established by Congress and administered with a national set of standards by the FAA. Enforcement of grant assurances is the FAA's best tool for making sure airport sponsors live up to their agreements."
Under the FAA's Airport Improvement Program (AIP), airport sponsors who accept federal funds for airport projects are required to keep the airport open to all users for 20 years.
In 2001, the Naples Airport Authority established noise restrictions that effectively barred older, noisier business jets from using the airport, claiming that the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) supersedes grant assurance rules. Unlike Chicago's Meigs Field, Naples Municipal Airport is under federal grant obligations because the airport authority has accepted millions of dollars in federal AIP funds.
After a thorough investigation, the FAA's Office of Airport Safety and Standards reached a number of conclusions, including a determination that ANCA does not supersede the law establishing grant obligations and does not delegate the power to regulate aircraft to local airport operators.
ANCA does provide a very narrow exception that allows local authorities to deal directly with noise issues. But the FAA requires that communities seek alternatives before imposing the most severe remedy of access restrictions. In this case, the FAA determined that the Naples Airport Authority imposed restrictions without first trying other measures.
"This law and process obligates a federally funded airport to comply with federally implemented standards, and to comply with federal obligations," said AOPA. "Failure to hold an airport sponsor, such as the Naples Airport Authority, to these standards and to the terms of their contract with the federal government would erode...the FAA's authority to manage the nationwide airport network and to control aircraft noise, and the efficiency of the national aviation system."
"The bottom line is that airports are not free to establish their own regulations and restrictions," said Boyer. "The FAA has a congressionally mandated obligation to maintain uniform nationwide standards. We're pleased to see the FAA enforcing grant assurances as a way to uphold those standards."
The nearly 400,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation organization. AOPA is committed to ensuring the continued viability, growth, and development of aviation and airports in the United States. These airports are a vital and critical component of a national transportation system.