AOPA is working to prevent a national precedent from being set that could lead to airports being sold, and possibly closed, regardless of state or federal grant obligations. That's the core of a case before a federal magistrate court in Oklahoma. AOPA filed a "friend of the court" brief Tuesday to help educate the court about general aviation airports, how GA airports fit into the national air transportation system, and grant obligations attached to federal and state airport grants.
Grand Lake Regional Airport in Afton, Oklahoma, is scheduled to be sold at auction in August by the U.S. Marshal's office because the airport's owner, Monkey Island Development Authority (MIDA), could not come up with the $99,000 it was ordered to pay in attorney fees from previous litigation.
The U.S. Marshal's sale would potentially free a buyer from keeping the airport open or from repaying state and federal grants. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion on behalf of the FAA to stop the sale.
"AOPA has never seen the case where a grant obligated, publicly owned airport is ordered to be sold to fulfill an award of legal fees, without any legal recognition that there are financial and contractual obligations owed by the airport," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. "We are extremely concerned about the precedent this action could set."
The airport is included in the FAA's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), a group of more than 3,300 airports across the United States that the FAA considers significant to national air transportation. Through the NPIAS, Congress allows the FAA to make project grants for the development and improvement of those airports. Grand Lake Regional has received about $1.3 million in federal and state grants. As a condition for receiving those grants, MIDA agreed to keep the airport open and accessible as a public-use airport.
"Allowing the public auction of airports purchased and developed with federal grant money could undermine the entire purpose behind the federal grant program by transferring property to private individuals, potentially relieving airports of obligations required by the grants," AOPA explained in the brief. "As a result, private individuals and organizations could purchase property developed with public funds and convert the property into purely private use or cease operating the property as an airport entirely. This could have an extremely negative effect on the nation's air transport system, and on general aviation in particular."
AOPA also pointed out that a court order to sell the airport and erase grant obligations could prompt Congress to cut the amount of funding available for airport improvement or limit the number of airports eligible for aid. If the sale order is allowed to stand, the implications to public airport sponsors could be significant.
"Grand Lake Regional and GA airports across the country are vital links in keeping the national air transportation system safe and efficient for the public," Dunn said. "We hope that once the court understands the national implications, the judge will vacate the auction order and work with the parties to find another manner to fulfill the judgment against MIDA."
June 23, 2005