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Tue, Jun 07, 2005

NBAA Welcomes Naples Court of Appeals Decision

Upholds FAA Authority to Withhold Grants for Unreasonable Restrictions on Aircraft Access

NBAA has welcomed a court decision upholding authority for the FAA to take action against unreasonable restrictions on certain types of business aircraft. At the same time, the Association's enthusiasm was tempered by some of the specifics related to the case.

The decision, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 3, resulted from court proceedings to determine whether a ban on Stage 2 aircraft at Naples Airport was unreasonable, as the FAA claimed. “Stage 2” refers to an FAA designation related to the decibel level at which an aircraft operates.

In 2002, the FAA began withholding federal funding for Naples Airport as an enforcement action against the Stage 2 ban, which was put in place by the Florida city's Airport Authority. In taking the enforcement action, the FAA maintained that the noise ban at Naples was in violation of the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982, which stipulates that airports must be “available for public use on reasonable conditions and without unjust discrimination” in order to be eligible for federal grant funds. NBAA submitted an amicus brief in the court proceeding supporting the FAA's position.

For its part, the Airport Authority contended that once an airport completed the FAA's procedures for reviewing airport restrictions (known as the Part 161 process), the Agency lost its ability to take enforcement action on the airport's Stage 2 ban.  In the opinion issued last week, the court stated that it would “…defer to the FAA's determination that it retains that power.”

“NBAA is pleased that the court recognized and preserved the FAA's authority to withhold federal funding from airports that impose unreasonable restrictions on aircraft,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “Airports that receive federal funding and are available for public use should not unjustly discriminate against certain types of aircraft.  With its decision last week, the court signaled its agreement with that principle.”

Last week's ruling was only a partial victory for business aircraft operators, because the court's ruling also concluded that, in this specific instance, the Naples Airport Authority provided “ample evidence” that its ban on Stage 2 aircraft is reasonable. In its ruling, the court stated that the FAA had not adequately explained why the Stage 2 ban at Naples was unreasonable, and the case was sent back to the FAA for further consideration of the facts underlying the Agency's unreasonableness determination.

“NBAA respectfully disagrees with the court's conclusion that the FAA lacked evidence supporting its determination that the Stage 2 ban at Naples Airport was unreasonable,” Bolen continued.

“At the same time, the court's decision preserves the integrity of the uniform, fact-based, federal process in place for review of airport restrictions, and underscores the premise that this process is the proper way to approach airport access restrictions.  That approach has worked well for many years, and continues to work well today. With its decision, the court recognized that this is the case, and that is a 'win' for the business aviation community.”

FMI: http://web.nbaa.org/public/ops/airports/apf/decision20050603.pdf, http://web.nbaa.org/public/ops/airports/apf

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