Files Brief In Oklahoma Case
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
"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."