Janurary/February 2002 The Write Stuff

The Write Stuff

Last month, we looked at the FAA’s response to CPA’s petition to Secretary Norman Mineta concerning the FAA’s inaction regarding Airport Assurance Agreements. As a follow-up, CPA president Jay C. White sent a letter to California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein. Imagine what could happen if she received one thousand more such letters… nudge nudge hint hint… -Ed.

January 15, 2002

Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Member, U. S. Senate
1 Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104

Re: Preservation of California’s Public Airports – FAA Airport
Improvement Grant Program

Dear Senator Feinstein:

The California Pilots Association is a California nonprofit, public benefit corporation whose mission is to preserve the state’s public use airports. This is a request for your help in preserving the airports.

The airports are a vital part of the state’s transportation infrastructure. Yet, they are being compromised and closed at an alarming rate. The Federal Aviation Administration has been unwilling or incapable of resolving this problem.

Some twenty-five of California’s public use airports have closed since 1976. Many others are being operated under curfews and other restrictions that decrease their utility as transportation facilities.

Many of the smaller airports are designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as reliever airports for the major airports that serve scheduled airlines. For example, San Carlos Airport is designated as a reliever airport for San Francisco International Airport. Many corporate and other business-use aircraft land at San Carlos, thus decreasing congestion and enhancing capacity at San Francisco International. Deteriorating airline service and delays in recent times have resulted in increased use of corporate and other business aircraft by as much as 30% at some smaller airports.

Because of their importance, the FAA gives preferential funding consideration to maintenance and improvement of these smaller airports. At the local government level, however, many cities and counties do not consider small and medium sized airports as an important part of the transportation system. These agencies frequently allow incompatible land uses to encroach and compromise continued viable airport operation.

Residential projects in particular are often approved even though they are incompatible because of safety and noise concerns. Many persons who purchase these houses knowing an airport is nearby later complain vociferously to their elected officials. The complaints frequently result in airport curfews and restrictions. Clearly, proper planning that prevents these incompatibilities is essential.

A tool available to the FAA to assure compatible land use planning is the Assurance Agreement that every airport owner is required to sign when obtaining a grant of federal funds under the Airport Improvement Program. The agreement requires a recipient to “take appropriate action, to the extent reasonable, including the adoption of zoning laws, to restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft.”

Many of these agreements are routinely ignored by the grant recipients. Instead, to these recipients the FAA has become a cash cow with federal funds available for the asking and with no accountability. This, needless to say, does not meet taxpayers’ expectations for proper use of federal funds.

The FAA has statutory authority to enforce the grant assurance agreements. The California Pilots Association and others have repeatedly requested the FAA to enforce the assurance agreements. For reasons not known, however, enforcement is not being done.

In pursuit of a solution to the incompatibility problem, some fourteen hundred members of the California Pilots Association petitioned Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta for help. The petition was referred to the FAA who responded by letter: “Please be advised that the Department of Transportation does not intend to promulgate new policies, procedures or regulations regarding an airport sponsor’s compliance with grant assurances related to compatible land use at this time.”

The FAA purports to have a procedure pursuant to 14 CFR 16.23 for addressing the noncompliance problem. The procedure is flawed and simply does not work. A complaint can be filed only if the person is “directly and substantially affected by any alleged noncompliance.”

This makes no sense when the object of a complaint is to prevent the creation of a safety hazard such as a planned residential development. The filing of such a complaint in advance would be to prevent anyone from later being “directly and substantially affected.” The filing of a complaint after a residential project has been built would be a pointless and futile exercise.

Nevertheless, that in effect is the FAA’s interpretation of its regulation. This interpretation precludes a public benefit corporation such as the California Pilots Association from filing a complaint to prevent an incompatible project.

It is in desperation that our members are requesting your help in requiring the FAA to live up to its responsibility. FAA must help preserve California’s public use airports by enforcing all assurance agreements signed by airport owners who receive federal grants.

Jay C. White, President, California Pilots Association
cc: David L. Bennett, Director of Airport Safety and Standards, Federal Aviation Administration