Update Your Airport's Hangar Leases to Protect Against Non-Aeronautical Uses and Preserve AIP Funding

Under federal law, airport operators that have accepted federal grants or have obligations contained in property deeds for property transferred under laws such as the Surplus Property Act generally may use airport property only for aviation-related purposes unless otherwise approved by the FAA.  Specifically, the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 (AAIA) (Pub. L. 97–248), as amended and recodified at 49 United States Codes (U.S.C.) 47107(a)(1), and the contractual sponsor assurances require that the airport sponsor make the airport available for aviation use.  Grant Assurance 22, Economic Nondiscrimination, requires the sponsor to make the airport available on reasonable terms without unjust discrimination for aeronautical activities, including aviation services.  Grant Assurance 19, Operation and Maintenance, prohibits an airport sponsor from causing or permitting any activity that would interfere with use of airport property for airport purposes.  In some cases, sponsors who have received property transfers through surplus property and nonsurplus property agreements have similar federal obligations.

With increasing frequency, airports are allowing non-aeronautical storage or uses in hangars intended for aeronautical use, which the FAA has found to interfere with or entirely displace aeronautical use of the hangar.  Case in point: Car and Driver has recently featured articles about the superiority of airport hangars as “garages” for serious car enthusiasts.  This should be a red flag for airports, which stand to lose significant AIP funds for allowing on-airport hangars to lapse into non-aeronautical use.
 
There is only one solution to this problem, and it is something every federally-obligated airport should do to protect its AIP funds…
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Uber Flies High in FAA's Airspace

The Los Angeles Times reports that Uber, the ridesharing company, plans to extend its reach into the stratosphere by developing an “on-demand air transportation service.”  The plan appears to be that customers will use Uber’s surface transportation ride hailing system to hop a ride to a “vertiport” where an electrically powered aircraft will carry passengers to another vertiport at which they will be met by another phalanx of Uber drivers waiting to take otherwise stranded customers off the roofs of parking garages and into the traffic they supposedly avoided by using the proposed above ground transportation option.  

The purpose appears to be to allow customers to fly from one part of town to another.  Very creative, but shockingly absent all but one off-hand reference to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), and the federal government’s total dominance over the airspace of the United States, 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a), including the design and construction of airports, which definition includes “vertiports.” 14 C.F.R. § 157.2. 
 
Whether recognized or not, Uber’s scheme faces a host of questions, and potential regulatory objections, that range from the way in which such episodic operations will merge with the arrival and departure paths of conventional aircraft, to the noise of even electric aircraft operating over existing residential neighbors and pedestrians using city streets.  While these are, to a large extent, the same issues posed by the operation of unmanned aircraft, or drones, they are even more immediate in this case, because the proposed electric aircraft are larger, potentially louder, and, perhaps most importantly, impinge on conventional aircraft regulatory areas long controlled by the FAA.
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City of East Hampton May Be "A Day Late and a Dollar Short" in Challenging the Airport Noise and Capacity Act

The Town of East Hampton, Long Island has brought a challenge at the United States Supreme Court, seeking to reverse the November 4, 2016 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which invalidated East Hampton’s local ordinance prohibiting flights from East Hampton Town Airport between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and “noisy” aircraft flights between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m.  The Second Circuit decision was predicated on East Hampton’s purported failure to comply with 49 U.S.C. 47524(c), which limits the grounds upon which local operational restrictions may be imposed to those in which “the restriction has been agreed to by the airport proprietor and all airport operators or has been submitted to and approved by the Secretary of Transportation . . .”  In addition, Section 47524(d) contains six express exemptions from the limitations, none of which apparently applies to East Hampton. 

While East Hampton’s intent is noble, its cause is weak.  
 
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Congress Moves to Increase Judicial Oversight of Federal Agencies

On January 17, 2017, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.”  Buried deep within its pages is Title II, the “Separation of Powers Restoration Act.”  That title, although only two sections long, dramatically changes the legal landscape for challenges to the actions of federal regulatory agencies.  Currently, in adjudicating challenges to administrative rulemaking and implementing actions, the federal courts invoke the precedent established in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 844 (1984).  In that case, the Supreme Court held: “We have long recognized that considerable weight should be accorded to an executive department's construction of a statutory scheme it is entrusted to administer...”  In adopting Chevron, the Supreme Court effectively gives administrative agencies almost complete deference, not only in the interpretation of the regulations they implemented, but also, and more controversially, in the way the agencies carry out the mandates of those regulations.  Thus, challengers seeking to use the judicial system to point out and rectify what are perceived as misapplication of the regulations, butt up against the reluctance of the courts to question or interfere with the agency’s construction of the regulation or the evidence and its application in carrying out the agency’s order.  In Title II, the Congress has stood the current deferential standard on its head. 

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Two More Southern California Cities and an Airport Join Culver City in its Challenge to the FAA's Southern California Airspace Redesign

In an unusual alliance, the Southern California cities of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, as well as Orange County, owner and operator of John Wayne Airport (“JWA”), joined with Culver City to challenge the adequacy of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) Environmental Assessment (“EA”) and Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”) for the Southern California Metroplex OAPM (“Project”).  The Project is a redesign of the approaches and departures to and from more than a dozen Southern California airports.  Its stated purpose is to enhance “safety and efficiency” by consolidating the various flight paths to and from these airports by using area navigation (“RNAV”), instead of ground based radar, which requires the use of “waypoints” that, in turn, require dispersion of the aircraft over large areas, and, consequently, the consumption of more fuel.  

The various challenges are generally based on similar issues.  
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Culver City to Challenge SoCal Metroplex Project

Culver City has issued a Press Release announcing its intention to file a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration related to aircraft overflights.  Culver City has retained Barbara E. Lichman, Ph.D. of the firm of Buchalter Nemer to represent it its challenge to the SoCal Metroplex Environmental Assessment ("EA") and Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision ("FONSI/ROD").  

City of Santa Monica on Track for Confrontation with Federal Aviation Administration

Predictably, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has weighed in strongly in opposition to the City of Santa Monica’s (“City”) plan to close the Santa Monica Airport (“Airport”) within the next two years.  The City, owner and operator of the Airport, plans to begin the process of closure, including cancellation and/or modification of leases held by various aeronautical service providers, such as providers of fuel, maintenance and hangar storage.  Those Airport incumbents are already paying rent on a month-to-month basis, subject to summary eviction. 

 

The apparent basis of Santa Monica’s position is that: (1) its obligation to maintain the airport is based solely on the terms of its contract with FAA for the provision of funding; and (2) according to its terms, that contract expires 20 years after the FAA’s last grant of funding.
 
The FAA’s position, obviously, differs dramatically.  The agency claims that, according to the terms of a $240,000 federal grant to the City in 2003, the City is obligated to keep the Airport open until at least 2023, see, e.g., FAA Order 5190.6B, Chapter 4, §§ 4.6.h(1) and (2).  Moreover, the FAA asserts that, under the terms of the transfer agreement governing the transfer of the airport property from the military back to the City after World War II, the City is obligated to keep the Airport open in perpetuity.
 
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FAA Releases New Commercial Drone Regulations, Section 333 Exemption Holders Get "Grandfathered" Compliance Status

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) announced the finalization of its long-awaited Final Rule governing routine commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems weighing 55 lbs. or less.  The new 14 C.F.R. Part 107 will become effective 60 days from the date of its publication in the Federal Register, which is likely to happen this week or next.

Below is an explanation of how the new Part 107 will affect entities that have already received a Section 333 exemption, followed by a summary of the new operational requirements and restrictions:
 
Section 333 Exemption Holders Get Best of Both Worlds: “Grandfathered” Compliance Status and the Option to Take Advantage of the New Rules
 
In the Final Rule, the FAA was careful to protect Section 333 exempt entities from the burden of complying with an additional layer of regulations.  Instead, Section 333 exemption holders will be “grandfathered” into compliance, as explained by the FAA below:
 
“The FAA clarifies that current section 333 exemptions that apply to small UAS are excluded from part 107. The FAA has already considered each of these individual operations when it considered their section 333 exemption requests and concluded that these operations do not pose a safety or national security risk.
 
The FAA recognizes, however, that there may be certain instances where part 107 is less restrictive than a section 333 exemption. Therefore, under this rule, a section 333 exemption holder may choose to operate in accordance with part 107 instead of operating under the section 333 exemption. This approach will provide section 333 exemption holders time to obtain a remote pilot certificate and transition to part 107. Operations that would not otherwise fall under part 107 may not take advantage of this option. For example, an operation with a section 333 exemption that does not fall under part 107, such as an operation of a UAS weighing more than 55 pounds, would not have the option of operating in accordance with part 107 rather than with its section 333 exemption.
 
Additionally, when section 333 exemptions come up for renewal, the FAA will consider whether renewal is necessary for those exemptions whose operations are within the operational scope of part 107, which also includes those operations that qualify for a waiver under part 107. The purpose of part 107 is to continue the FAA’s process of integrating UAS into the NAS. If a section 333 exemption is within the operational scope of part 107, there may be no need for the agency to renew an exemption under section 333. Because the FAA’s renewal considerations will be tied to the outstanding section 333 exemptions’ expiration dates, a 3-year transition period is not necessary. This will not affect those section 333 exemptions that are outside of the operational scope of part 107 or where a part 107 waiver would not be considered.”  
(Final Rule, Pages 83-84.)
 
Thus, for Section 333 exemption holders, the result is the best of both worlds.  On the one hand, Section 333 exempt entities are not required to modify their current commercial drone operations to comply with the new regulations.  On the other hand, if a Section 333 exempt entity identifies an opportunity to perform certain operations under less stringent restrictions promulgated in the new Part 107, it may “choose to operate in accordance with part 107 instead of operating under the section 333 exemption.”
 
Here is the FAA’s Summary of the new operational limitations, Pilot in Command and certification responsibilities, and aircraft requirements:
 
 
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Congressional Stalemate Persists over Air Traffic Control Privatization as FAA Reauthorization Deadline Approaches

The integration of cutting-edge aviation technology such as commercial drones and the modernization of our national airspace system are just a couple of the pressing aviation issues hanging in the balance this summer as Congress seeks common ground on FAA Reauthorization legislation.  

With the July 15, 2016 expiration of the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization legislation rapidly approaching, congressional disagreement over a plan to privatize Air Traffic Control is preventing bicameral endorsement of a path forward.  
 
On April 19, 2016, the Senate passed its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization legislation by an overwhelming margin of 95-3 (initially introduced as S. 2658 and later merged into H.R. 636). The Senate’s FAA legislation would reauthorize FAA programs through September 2017, and would focus billions of dollars and government resources on some of the most pressing aviation issues including the promotion of widespread commercial drone operations, bolstering airport security, and adding new safety systems in private aircraft. However, the Senate’s FAA Reauthorization legislation is arguably more notable for what it would not do than for what it would do. 
 
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New Airport Legislation Targets TSA Wait Times by Redirecting $15.8 Billion and Increasing Efficiency Measures

Airports and airlines across the nation last week welcomed the introduction of two bills aimed at alleviating mounting congestion in airport security lines by increasing TSA efficiency and reallocating billions of dollars in security fees paid by passengers.
 
The FASTER Act (H.R. 5340) is aimed at ensuring passenger security fees are used for aviation security, according to a statement released last week by Rep. Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Since 2013, the federal government has diverted billions in funds collected from the 9/11 Passenger Security Fee away from aviation and into general government spending.  “At airports across the country, people are forced to wait in long security lines like cattle, causing many to miss their flight,” said DeFazio.  “To add insult to injury, funding to help fix the wait times exists – it’s just being diverted. I doubt most passengers know that a portion of the security fee they pay with every flight is being used for other purposes.  With peak travel season starting this weekend, Congress needs to direct all of the designated funds towards the intended purpose in order to improve the efficiency of airport screening and keep passengers safe.”
 
A second piece of legislation, introduced last week by Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security Chairman John Katki (R-NY), named the bipartisan Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016, is aimed at reducing long airport security lines by efficiently reallocating TSA staffing and resources.  “Travelers are frustrated with TSA’s bureaucracy – facing longer lines, and in some cases, missing flights and having to return home or stay overnight in the airport,” said Representative Katko in a statement.  “This is a crisis that must be addressed before we head into the busy summer months of travel.  Today, I’ve introduced legislation which takes the first step in requiring greater coordination between the TSA and local airports so that we can relieve congestion and ensure that travelers are able to make it to their destinations on schedule.”
 
The new bills were introduced amidst a flurry of requests last week by Homeland Security seeking Congressional reallocation of over $60 million to TSA for the expedited hiring of screeners and overtime pay for current security staff.
 
Though these new measures were received with applause by the vast majority of the aviation industry, it remains to be seen whether the effects of additional funding and increased efficiency will be realized in time for the fast-approaching summer travel season.