Even with the victory in the battle to save St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport safely under its belt, AOPA continues to fight for embattled airports in the Sunshine State. In Pompano Beach, in Naples, and in Stuart, AOPA is actively working to counter efforts by anti-airport activists to close or restrict local airports.
At Pompano Beach, AOPA is drafting a formal complaint to be filed with the FAA, after the city commissioners there voted unanimously to expand restrictions on flight training and helicopter operations at Pompano Beach Airpark (PMP).
"The city attorney told them not to do it. The outside experts hired by the commissioners themselves strongly advised against it. They did it anyway," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn.
Since 1996, the city has prohibited stop-and-go operations and limited touch-and-go operations to 9-to-5 Monday through Friday with none allowed on holidays. That left only taxiing back to the end of the runway as a training option. The new ordinance places similar restrictions on both taxi-back and helicopter operations. One commissioner was quoted in the local paper as saying he voted for the ordinance to see how the FAA would react.
"This opens a whole can of worms they may wish had stayed closed," said Dunn. "As their own consultants pointed out, it gives the FAA a chance to revisit the 1996 noise restrictions. And under both former Administrator Jane Garvey and current Administrator Marion Blakey, the FAA has been increasingly willing to use deed and grant obligations to prevent airport sponsors from restricting legal flight activities."
In Stuart, Fla., where anti-airport activists are pushing for downsizing or outright closure of Witham Field (SUA), AOPA Regional Representative Nelson Rhodes this week attended a marathon Martin County commission meeting to discuss the downsizing option. Rhodes told the commissioners that AOPA would insist that the county comply with state and federal laws and obligations. He also said that AOPA would work with the commission and local pilots to promote voluntary noise abatement measures.
The commissioners showed little appetite for a court battle or a fight with the FAA. Rhodes said that for now, the crisis situation at Witham Field appears to have subsided somewhat. But AOPA plans to pay special attention during the next county elections, when anti-airport forces are expected to try to elect a more sympathetic slate of commissioners.
The Martin County commissioners are also paying close attention to a federal court case challenging the city of Naples, Florida's ordinance prohibiting Stage 2 aircraft at Naples Municipal Airport (APF). A court victory for Naples could prompt Martin County to draft similar noise restrictions for Witham Field.
AOPA has petitioned to file a friend of the court brief (amicus curiae) in that case and, if granted, plans to argue that authority for controlling access to airports resides solely with the federal government since local airports are part of a national system.
"The situations at all three of these airports serve as case studies in the problems encroachment and incompatible land use can cause," said Dunn. "It's in the best interest of everyone—pilot, airport neighbor, and airport sponsor—to take a long-range look at how zoning around airports will affect both the community and the airport itself."