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. 
 

Continue Reading Reliever Airports Face Increasing and Competitive Woes

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. 
 

Continue Reading Santa Monica Sues for Closure of Airport

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

On March 27, 2013, the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission (“ALUC”) gave the latest in a series of approvals including those from Los Angeles Board of Airport of Commissioners (“BOAC”) and Los Angeles City Planning Commission, of the proposed Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan Amendment Study Project (“Project”).  The Project includes construction of a new terminal, addition of runway safety lighting, and, its centerpiece, the reconfiguration of the North Runway Complex with movement of runway 6L/24R 260 feet north. 

Most notably, the Project will impose dramatic impacts on surrounding communities, including significant new noise impacts on over 14,000 people, 12,000 in the City of Inglewood alone.  Moreover, the Project adversely impacts the goal of regionalization which is a centerpiece of the Stipulated Settlement signed by the Petitioners in City of El Segundo, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., Riverside County Superior Court Case No. RIC426822.  A principal goal of that settlement was, and remains, diversion of air traffic to other airports in the region, not the encouragement of access to LAX. 
 

Continue Reading Surrounding Communities Object to Approval of the Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan Amendment Study Project

On January 31, 2013, the Cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds, Washington, and concerned citizens and organizations in the vicinity of Paine/Boeing Field, Everett, Washington (“Petitioners”) filed a “Petition for Review of Agency Order,” challenging the adequacy of the Environmental Assessment (“EA”) for the conversion of Paine Field from a proprietary facility to a commercial airport. 

While its zeal to protect its citizens from the noise and emissions of aircraft arriving and departing Santa Monica Airport is commendable and understandable, the Santa Monica Airport Commission’s method is questionable.  That is because its recently proposed proportional limitation on aircraft operations (i.e., a limit on future operations at some percent of current operations) appears to be contrary to Federal law.

More specifically, in a Memorandum of on or about August 2, 2012, the Airport Commission proposed a hypothetical restriction whereby “the number of daily operations would be limited to [approximately] 53% of the daily operations from prior years . . . For example, if there were 100 operations on June 6, 2012, then no more than 53 operations would be allowed on June 6, 2013.”  The Vice Chairman of the Airport Commission argues that, because the proposed restriction does not discriminate between aircraft types (as a prior proposed Santa Monica ordinance limiting operations by jet aircraft did), it would withstand judicial scrutiny.  The Commission has apparently forgotten about the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, 49 U.S.C. § 47521, et seq., (“ANCA”), and its prohibition on the imposition of noise or access restrictions without approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). 
 

Continue Reading Santa Monica Airport Commission Needs to Look Harder at Federal Law in Proposing Aircraft Access Restrictions

On July 27, 2012, Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”) released the “Specific Plan Amendment Study Draft Environmental Impact Report” (“DEIR”), involving, among other things: (1) a realignment and extension of runways to the east on the North Airfield Complex, including a separation of the two north runways to permit their unimpeded use by the largest operating aircraft, A-380s and 747-800s (“Category VI”); (2) expansion and renovation of the terminals; and (3) associated movement and potential undergrounding of surrounding thoroughfares including Lincoln Boulevard.  Sides are already forming over the proposed plan. 

Continue Reading Draft Environmental Impact Report for Los Angeles International Airport Airfield Project Released

It has come to our attention that a legal colleague has authored a blog analogizing the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Obama Administration’s health care legislation (“Obamacare”), National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius, et al., 567 U.S. ___ (2012), to the Federal statutes preempting state and local control of the regulation of aircraft operations and their free and open access to airports.  The blog attempts to make the case that, because the Court ruled that the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution does not justify requiring all uninsured Americans to purchase health insurance, so the Commerce Clause somehow cannot justify exclusive Federal regulation of the “safety of navigable airspace,” 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a), and airlines “rates, routes and charges,” 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1).  This analysis not only manifestly misapprehends the clear distinction between the two cases, but can also send a damaging message to those who justifiably seek legally supportable means of controlling airport impacts. 

Continue Reading Make No Mistake: The Supreme Court’s Decision on Obamacare Has No Impact on Applicable Aviation and Airport Law

A lesson for all those who oppose the development of airports – be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  Ten years ago the City of Irvine, California, won its epic battle over the conversion of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (“El Toro”) to a new commercial airport for Orange County, California.  The site is more than 3,000 acres in size, and was, at the time, surrounded by a 14,000 acre “no development” buffer zone, that the military had maintained to insulate itself from liability for noise and other impacts from aircraft operations at El Toro. 

Despite the largest land use buffer around any airport in the nation, and the fact that the noisiest military aircraft then in existence, the F-14, F-16 and F-18 fighter jets, had been operating regularly and continuously out of El Toro for more than 50 years, when El Toro was marked for closure under the Base Reuse and Realignment Act, 10 U.S.C. § 2687, et seq., (“BRAC”), and conveyed to Orange County through a public benefit conveyance, a number of cities in South Orange County, including Irvine and Laguna Niguel, banded together to stop the conversion.  Their alternative was a 3,600 acre “Great Park” on the El Toro site, to include sports facilities, entertainment venues, and wildlife preservation areas, and limited commercial and residential development on the periphery. 

It was a very convincing story, and, ultimately, in 2003, after 10 years of political and legal battles and the expenditure of many millions of dollars on both sides, the effort prevailed in the passage of an Initiative, Measure W.  The Initiative transferred land use planning authority from Orange County to the City of Irvine, for the purpose of developing the “Great Park.”  The only problem is, another 10 years and mega-millions of dollars later, the Great Park remains an empty field hosting an occasional tent show or fair, and is on the verge of becoming what its skeptics expected all along.
 

Continue Reading The Unmaking of the Great Park

On Monday, May 7, 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) issued a revision to Advisory Circular 150/5300-13A which provides standards and recommendations for airport design.  While Advisory Circulars are typically considered non-regulatory, and, thus, merely “advisory,” use of the Advisory Circulars is mandatory on all projects funded by the FAA under the Federal Airport Improvement