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Hilton Head Residents Take Issue With Banner Plane

FAA Says Town Cannot Prevent Banner Towing, Local Ordinance Not Withstanding

Hilton Head Island in South Carolina has a local ordinance against aerial advertising, which it passed in 1993. At the time, city leaders saw the banners towed behind airplanes in the same way as any other sign, which are strictly regulated.

So when a plane towing a banner for GEICO insurance proceeded slowly up the beach last weekend, some residents complained to city hall, which attempted to contact the plane's owner to tell him about the law. What they found was they may not be able to ban the banners, no matter how "annoying" some think they are.

The Island Packet reports that FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salak told the city that "The Federal Aviation Administration controls the civil airspace for the United States of America," adding that federal law supersedes any local ordinance. She said that as long as the aircraft is being operated safely, there is nothing to stop them from flying pretty much anywhere in the country. (Try telling that to someone who's unwittingly violated a TFR or Class B airspace, Ed.)

The pilot, who was working for Aerial Banners North, was actually supposed to be flying over Savannah, but reportedly "became bored" and saw more activity at Hilton Head, so he made a detour. Company owner Bob Benyo said the pilot should have stayed over Savannah, but strongly disagrees with Hilton Head's ordinance. He said when he got the call from the city, he "laughed and said 'when did you guys purchase the airspace from the federal government'." Benyo said if he had a client that wanted it, he'd fly a banner over Hilton Head just to challenge the law.

But the story is unlikely to end there. The paper reports that In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Honolulu County, HI ordinance that bans aerial advertising. The court agreed that the county had a right to protect its tourism industry by keeping the airspace clear of advertising.

FMI: www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov, www.faa.gov

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