The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has added another arrow to its quiver in its ongoing campaign to limit residential and commercial development in even the remotest vicinity of airports. In late April, FAA originally published a “Proposal to Consider the Impact of One Engine Inoperative Procedures in Obstruction Evaluation Aeronautical Studies” (“Proposal”) which seeks to supplement existing procedures for analyzing the obstruction impact of new structures or modifications to existing structures on aircraft operations within certain distances around airports (see 14 C.F.R. Part 77), with consideration of the impact of structures on one engine inoperative (“OEI”) emergency procedures. OEI procedures are not currently included in FAA’s obstruction regulations which advise local land use jurisdictions on appropriate limits to building heights within specified geographic zones around airports to accommodate the takeoff and landing clearance needed by aircraft with their full complement of operating engines. From an aeronautical perspective, FAA’s initiative sounds desirable and long overdue, even though the occurrence of engine loss is rare. From the perspective of local jurisdictions, landowners and developers, however, the proposal is anathema, potentially leading to dramatically lower allowable building heights and concomitantly reduced property values, even far from the airport.
On June 25, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) published in the Federal Register, 79 Fed.Reg. 36172, its “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft” (“Interpretation”) established by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub.L. 112-95, § 336 (“FMRA”). Despite its name, FAA’s interpretation goes far beyond mere definitional clarification. It is, instead, the first step in establishing FAA’s preemptive authority over Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) as “aircraft” utilizing the National Airspace System (“NAS”), even where the operator of an UAS chooses to denominate it a “model aircraft.”
As a first step in asserting its regulatory authority, FAA takes the position that Congress’ rule in the FMRA is nothing new, but, instead, relies heavily on the long standing statutory and regulatory definition of model aircraft as “aircraft,” i.e., mechanisms that are “invented, used or designed to navigate or fly in the air,” 49 U.S.C. § 40102; 14 C.F.R. § 1.1. FAA also applies its own 2007 guidelines regarding UAS operating in the NAS, which recognizes that UAS fall within the statutory and regulatory definition of “aircraft” as “devices that are used or intended to be used for flight in the air with no onboard pilot.” 72 Fed.Reg. 6689 (February 13, 2007).
FAA’s Interpretation, however, goes far beyond the simple inclusion of “model aircraft” in the category of “aircraft.” The Interpretation expands even further upon FMRA’s three part test defining a “model aircraft” as an “unmanned aircraft” that is: “(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” FMRA, § 336(d).
With regard to FMRA’s second factor, the requirement that the model aircraft stay within the “visual line of sight” of the user, FAA interprets that requirement consistent with FMRA, § 336(c)(2) to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (including corrective lenses) and not goggles or other vision enhancing devices; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used to maintain the line of sight. In other words, to maintain the identity as a “model aircraft,” the aircraft cannot be “remotely controlled” from a location other than that at which it is being flown.
The third factor, the definition of what constitutes “hobby or recreational use” is perhaps the thornier.
The Santa Monica Airport Commission has recently made a proposal to limit access of certain aircraft to Santa Monica Airport by limiting emissions allowable from those aircraft. The proposal may be public spirited in its intent, but shocking in its naiveté with respect to the preemptive authority of federal law and specifically the federal authority over emissions from aircraft engines.
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is granted by Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the creation and enforcement of regulations governing emissions from aircraft engines. “The Administrator shall, from time to time, issue proposed emission standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of aircraft engines which in his judgment causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” 42 U.S.C. § 7571(a)(2)(A) and (a)(3). There are, however, some limits on EPA’s authority.
“Disruption” has become the buzzword of the decade for technology startups. Entrepreneurs take aim at existing markets every day with ideas designed to uproot and redefine their industries. But some of the most innovative disrupters are having trouble bringing their ideas to a place where disruption is generally unwelcome: the airport.
Car sharing services such as Zipcar, Car2Go, and Getaround and ride sharing services such as UberX, Lyft, and Zimride are changing the game in ground transportation. By using smartphone apps to connect drivers who have open seats in their vehicles with passengers who need rides, the ride sharing movement is reducing traffic and fuel usage. Similarly, by planting a network of available cars throughout a city and allowing consumers to access the vehicles for a fee, car sharing makes it more practical for consumers to forego vehicle ownership altogether. In 2014 alone, these companies have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital financing. Many consumers prefer these services to taxi cabs or other traditional methods of ground transportation because they are more convenient, affordable, and in some cases more environmentally friendly. As with taxi cabs, airports are natural hubs of activity for car sharing and ride sharing services.
Notwithstanding the rising tidal wave of demand, most airports have yet to develop a workable approach to the unique legal and logistical challenges presented by car sharing and ride sharing services. Instead, airports are prohibiting these companies from picking up or dropping off passengers at their terminals. At a recent conference of in-house airport lawyers, several representatives from some of North America’s largest aviation hubs expressed serious concerns about these services. One attendee suggested setting up “stings” by using the popular ride sharing apps to order rides from the airport and arresting the drivers for lack of taxi cab certification when they arrive.
However, non-airport regulators are beginning to appreciate that ride sharing services are not cab companies and should not be subject to the same regulations. In September of 2013, California became the first state to provide a regulatory framework for Transportation Network Companies (“TNCs”), defined by the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) as any organization that “provides prearranged transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application (app) or platform to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles.” (See CPUC Decision 13-09-045.) The Illinois House of Representatives followed suit last week when it passed HB 4075, which seeks to implement a set of regulations specific to ride sharing services.
With mounting political and consumer support for car sharing and ride sharing, airports are under increased pressure to adopt policies regulating these services instead of prohibiting them. Developing practical, sustainable policies that address issues such as airport congestion, service monitoring, and revenue sharing may prove to be a more profitable and efficient solution than denying airport access to car sharing and ride sharing companies.
Predictably, Judge John Walter of the Los Angeles Federal District Court summarily dismissed a lawsuit brought by the City of Santa Monica (“Santa Monica”) aimed at closing the Santa Monica Airport, based on, among other things, unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation. The court’s decision was made on the procedural grounds that, among other things, the lawsuit was brought too late and in the wrong court.
First, the court found that Santa Monica had brought the suit after the applicable 12 year statute of limitations had expired. 28 U.S.C. § 2409(a)(g). The court’s rationale was that Santa Monica knew as long ago as 1948 that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) had a residual claim to the property arising from the Deed of Transfer of the federal government’s lease back to the City of Santa Monica. That residual claim, therefore, required that Santa Monica’s suit be brought no later than the early 1960s.
In addition, the court found that, even if a claim for unconstitutional taking could be sustained under the applicable statute of limitations, it was improperly brought in the District Court, as the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1) vests exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over monetary claims against the federal government exceeding $10,000 with the Court of Federal Claims. Santa Monica does not, of course, dispute that the value of the airport property that it wishes to recover and use for other purposes exceeds $10,000.
Although the court chose the procedural route in making its decision, there appear to be relevant substantive grounds as well.
In an exercise of regulatory zeal, El Paso County, Colorado (“County”) now requires that City owned Colorado Springs Airport (“Airport”) obtain a permit from the County for any changes in airport physical development or operations that might affect nearby property located in the County.
Purportedly under the authority of the Colorado Areas and Activities of State Interest Act, § 24-65-101, et seq., the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) “has specific authority to consider and designate matters of state interest . . . and to adopt guidelines and regulations for administration of areas and activities of state interest. . .” Pursuant to that purported authority, by Resolution No. 13-267, June 6, 2013, and recorded at Reception No. 213077196 of the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, “the Board designated certain areas and activities of state interest” and established “a permit process for development in certain areas of state interest,” Resolution No. 13-530, Resolution Amending Guidelines and Regulations for Areas and Activities of State Interest of El Paso County, and designating additional matters of state interest. December 17, 2013. The new areas of state interest designated in the Resolution include: “site selection and expansion of airports,” Resolution, p. 3, § 1. The County has interpreted the permit process to extend to “runway extension, noise and other impacts that might affect property owners . . .,” Gazette, January 17, 2014, quoting Mark Gebhart, Deputy Director of County Development Services Department.
Therein lies the rub.
Reliever airports, once touted as the solution to major metropolitan airport congestion and its environmental impacts on surrounding communities are now facing daunting financial and competitive challenges from the very same airports they were supposed to relieve.
Reliever airports, defined as “general aviation airports in major metropolitan areas that provide pilots with attractive alternatives to using congested hub airports,” Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Advisory Circular 150/5070-6B, Appendix A, Glossary, were typically developed to occupy a market niche in their local regions. For years, they succeeded in their task. Since 2009, however, reliever airports throughout the country have lost substantial proportions of their passengers to the major urban airports. In Southern California alone, reliever airports such as Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) and Long Beach Airport (“LGB”) have seen massive reductions in their passenger counts. Now these airports are forced to take drastic steps to remain viable.
On December 4, 2013, Representative Joseph Crowley of a district in the Bronx and Queens, New York, heavily impacted by operations at LaGuardia Airport, introduced the “Quiet Skies Act” (H.R. 3650). Supported by a variety of Congresspersons from other similarly impacted districts, the Act requires passenger airlines to replace or retrofit 25% of their fleets every five years until 2035 to meet a “Stage 4” standard, approximately 10 decibels lower than currently approved “Stage 3” engines.
The conversion mandated by the Act might seem to result in significant relief to populations impacted by frequent overflights of Stage 3 aircraft. There are, however, at least two conditions significantly vitiating the Act’s impacts.
The internet has been abuzz lately with talk about the latest legal action filed by the City of Santa Monica (“City”) against the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), on October 31, 2013, seeking to avoid FAA’s refusal to allow the closure of Santa Monica Airport, see City of Santa Monica v. United States of America, et al., U.S.D.C. Case No. CV13-08046, an active general aviation airport surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
More specifically, the suit seeks to: (1) quiet title to the real property upon which the airport is now located, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2409a, as having been owned in fee simple by the City since approximately 1926; (2) obtain a judicial declaration that any attempt by FAA to prevent closure interferes with the City’s constitutional obligations to protect the public health, safety and welfare and, thus, constitutes a “taking” without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The City bases this claim on its ownership of the airport property in fee simple, and any constraint on closure is “constructive confiscation of airport property, and, thus, a violation of the prohibition on takings with just compensation in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution;” (3) establish violation of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution brought about by FAA’s stepping outside the rights given to the federal government under Constitution, and incurring on the powers of protection of the public health, safety and welfare left to the states; and (4) establish violation of the Due Process Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution arising from FAA’s contravention of its own regulatory guidance, which limits FAA’s power to restrict closure to those instances where FAA owned the property upon which the airport to be closed is located.
Leaving aside: (1) the difficulty of maintaining a case for inverse condemnation, or “taking” by one public entity against another where the express language of the Fifth Amendment provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use without just compensation,” see, e.g., Complaint, ¶ 106 [emphasis added]; and (2) the hurdle of obtaining declaratory and injunctive relief as a remedy for unconstitutional taking, where the law is clear that monetary damages are the exclusive remedy, there are several attributes that make this case unique, and, thus, not a precedent for action by others seeking to close airports.
The Cities of Inglewood, Culver City and Ontario, California and the County of San Bernardino (“Cities/County”) joined together yesterday, May 30, 2013, to file a challenge to the recently approved Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) Specific Plan Amendment Study (“SPAS”) expansion project. The project includes: the further separation of runways on the North Airfield to…