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California city council overreach prompts pushback from aviation groups

A staunch legal warning was submitted to the city of Torrance, California, after the city council voted to prohibit many forms of aeronautical activity around Zamperini Field on the sole basis of noise control.

Image by Chris Rose.

AOPA views this action as a clear legal violation of federal law, as Title 49 of the United States Code grants the FAA “exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.”

A letter in response to the action was submitted to the city on September 8 by AOPA in collaboration with NATA (until recently known as the National Air Transportation Association), Helicopter Association International, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the National Business Aviation Association. Citing numerous sources of case law, the collective organizations made it clear that the council’s decision to prohibit aeronautical activity cannot stand against federal preemption and should be withdrawn.

“Unless the City can demonstrate that there is an exemption that would allow the City to regulate aircraft in flight, it cannot take actions that are calculated to regulate such aircraft for the purpose of limiting noise within U.S. airspace,” the letter states.

The signees encouraged the city to suspend the action until the FAA can verify whether the city is acting in legal compliance with the federal agency, “to avoid the waste of taxpayer funds in attempting to defend clear violations of the law.” The collective organizations are interested in a collaborative approach to solving this problem in the hopes that everyone—the city, the airport, the community, and the pilots—sees a successful outcome. To continue the ongoing conversation, the signees have requested an in-person meeting with the city of Torrance no later than October 13.

Over the last year, AOPA has worked with the Torrance Airport Association, homeowners associations, and flight schools in an attempt to come up with reasonable solutions to address the increased activity and noise. An ad hoc working group was also formed by pilots and homeowners association representatives to present solutions to the council that would address both parties’ concerns as well as satisfying each of their needs. Recommendations by the group to the city have been ignored.

In response to community outreach and the working group, flight schools have taken voluntary measures to limit and halt overflights of the south pattern at the field by their aircraft and have adjusted flight schedules to space out their training flights.

The actions taken by the Torrance City Council illustrate a growing airspace congestion problem in Southern California. The authors of the September 8 letter hope it will discourage local governments throughout the region facing similar issues from disregarding federal law and instead encourage them to embrace a collaborative approach between the aviation industry and the community to best identify solutions.

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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