The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting a lawsuit that challenges the closure of Kansas City's Richards-Gebaur Airport.
The suit, filed by the "Friends of Richards-Gebaur Airport" and the city of Grandview, Missouri (located nearby the airport), contends that the FAA didn't follow required environmental procedures when it released Kansas City from its "grant obligations" to maintain the airport. (The case is being heard in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.)
"We believe the FAA didn't follow the law or its own regulations when it allowed Kansas City to close the airport," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "This case could set a precedent that would make it easier to close other airports."
In its brief supporting the lawsuit, AOPA said that it believes "the failure of the FAA to adhere to statutory and regulatory mandates as well as internal policies may jeopardize the ability of airports to successfully coexist with their surrounding communities in the future."
AOPA told the court that the association has actively fought to preserve general aviation airports. However, access to airports is becoming increasingly limited. That has harmed the public interest.
In the case in point, the FAA permitted Kansas City to close Richards-Gebaur Airport to create an "intermodal" truck and railroad freight facility. Such a major decision would normally require an environmental study, but the FAA invoked a so-called "categorical exclusion." That allowed the agency to release Kansas City from its grant obligations to operate the airport without conducting formal environmental studies. In essence, the FAA decided that closing the airport wouldn't cause a significant impact.
But the Friends of Richards-Gebaur and Grandview city contend there will be considerable impact. They cited increased truck traffic through neighborhoods surrounding the facility and increased aircraft traffic at other area airports as just some of the action's negative impacts.
Supporting that contention, AOPA told the court, "Converting an airport into an intermodal railroad freight facility will certainly have aesthetic and economic effects, and it may have effects on the ecology and the culture, health, and general welfare of the surrounding community."
AOPA also expressed concern over the national precedent that could be established by "allowing the FAA to summarily dismiss the legitimate concerns of interested parties."
If the FAA is permitted to close Richards-Gebaur Airport without adequately considering the impacts on the human environment, AOPA said, the agency could close other airports as well without considering the impacts on local communities and airport users.
"Although general aviation and the communities surrounding airports are at times diametrically opposed," AOPA said in its brief, "all members of society rely upon their governmental agencies to abide by the rules and procedures put in place to safeguard the rights and privileges the agencies are created to protect, which serves to benefit those on both sides of an issue."
AOPA asked the court to critically evaluate the FAA's decision on Richards-Gebaur Airport "in light of the possible national consequences to airports throughout the United States."
The 355,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members, as are some 11,300 pilots in Missouri and Kansas.
March 14, 2000