It's an old cliché, but in this case, it applies - we lost the battle but won the war. A federal appeals court ruled that the FAA can withhold federal funds from airports that institute unreasonable noise restrictions. With an increasing number of communities attempting to limit aviation activities, that's a big win for the FAA and general aviation.
But the court also ruled in favor of a ban at Naples Airport in Florida on Stage 2 jet aircraft. ( Stage refers to the amount of noise from the jet, with Stage 1 - such as early model LearJets - the noisiest and Stage 3 the most quiet.) So the battle was lost for a small number of aircraft in one community.
In January 2001, the Naples airport authority banned Stage 2 jets. The FAA said that was unreasonable and withheld federal grant money to the airport. AOPA and other aviation associations supported the FAA, contending that the action was unjustly discriminatory. When the authority ultimately challenged the FAA ruling in federal court, AOPA attorneys filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the FAA.
Naples contended that the FAA didn't have the authority to withhold funds because of an unreasonable noise restriction, and that there was actually nothing unreasonable about the ban.
The court split the baby. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with AOPA's position - the FAA has full authority to remove funding from airports that implement noise restrictions that the FAA deems unreasonable.
"This ruling will have a significant effect in deterring airports from adopting noise restrictions that would inhibit general aviation access to public airports," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. "The decision may have far-reaching benefits for our members because other airports were watching this case closely before implementing their own airport access restrictions. Now those airports know the FAA can actually cut off their federal funding should they act inappropriately."
But in the particular case of Naples, the court said there was nothing unreasonable about the ban. The court noted that the city was consistent in controlling noise of all types throughout the community. And the court slapped the FAA's hand, pointedly noting that the FAA had presented no evidence to demonstrate that Naples had been unreasonable.
So battle lost, war won.
June 15, 2005