Tweed-New Haven Airport, seeking to extend its 5,600 foot runway to 7,200 feet, has run into an unexpected roadblock. A Federal Magistrate in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut has determined that Connecticut’s Gen. Stat. 15-120j(c) (providing, in part, that “[r]unway 2/20 of the airport shall not exceed the existing paved runway length of five thousand six hundred linear feet”), is not preempted by federal law. Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority v. George Jepsen, in His Official Capacity as Attorney General for the State of Connecticut, Case No. 3:15cv01731(RAR). The Magistrate concludes that the state statute “does not interfere with plaintiff’s ability to comply with federal aviation safety standards,” because: (1) the “Plaintiff has failed to present evidence that the runway length in this instance is a component part of the field of airline safety,” and, thus, does not violate the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40101, et seq., Memorandum of Decision, p. 39; (2) the statute is not expressly preempted by the provision of the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”) (49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1)) that “prohibits states from enforcing any law ‘relating to rates, routes, or services’ of any air carrier,” Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 378-79 (1992), because the Connecticut statute does not “relate to rates, routes or services [of airlines],” Memorandum of Decision, p. 43; and (3) the Airport and Airway Improvement Act, 49 U.S.C. § 47101, et seq. (“AAIA”), “does not impose any requirements or authorize the promulgation of federal regulations, unless funding is being sought,” Memorandum of Decision, p. 47.
First, with respect to the preemptive authority of the FAA Act, that Act incorporates virtually everything related to the safety of air navigation, both in the navigable airspace, and on the airport, including the design and construction of runways and taxiways.
“The FAA preempts the entire field of aviation safety through implied field preemption. The FAA [Federal Aviation Act] and regulations promulgated pursuant to it establish complete and thorough safety standards for air travel, which are not subject to supplementation by, or variation among, state laws.”
“The owner or operator [of an airport] will not make or allow any alteration in the airport or any of its facilities if the alteration does not comply with the plan the Secretary approves and the Secretary is of the opinion that the alteration may affect adversely the safety, utility or efficiency of the airport.”
“When an alteration in the airport or its facility is made and does not conform to the approved plan and that the Secretary decides adversely affects the safety, utility or efficiency of any property on or off the airport that is owned, leased or financed by the government, the owner of operator . . . will – (i) eliminate the adverse effect in a way the Secretary approves; or (ii) bear all costs of relocating the property or its replacement to a site acceptable to the Secretary and of restoring the property or its replacement to the level of safety, utility, efficiency, and cost of operations that existed before the alteration was made. . .”