In the Winter 2010 edition of Florida Aviation Business, I wrote an article entitled, “Battle Over Airport Noise Ordinance Goes Bi-Coastal.” The article compared the battle over aircraft noise (or some might say “sound”) issues at Santa Monica, California, with a similar battle at Vakaria Airport in Brevard County, Florida. In both cases, the principal issue was and is whether the local community (e.g., local law), or the FAA (e.g., federal law) governs the use of airport property that has received federal funds for improvements.
In yet another example of the tension that can arise between local communities and the FAA over airport, aircraft, and airspace control, Riverside County, California, evicted more than 40 gliders from the Hemet-Ryan Airport in October 2009, citing safety concerns. Gliders had maintained a presence at the airport for 50 years at the time the county enacted the glider ban. The Orange County Soaring Association filed a formal complaint with the FAA, who ruled in February of this year that the analysis underlying the county’s decision was “flawed” and that the airport can accommodate the “safe simultaneous operations of glider and powered aircraft.” According to the FAA, the county’s eviction was an “unreasonable denial” of use of the airport, and the FAA ordered the county to negotiate in good faith with glider-related entities and complete a draft airport master plan within 30 days of the ruling.
When I first read the article in AvWeb, it reminded me of my former life as a Washington lobbyist for air tour operators at the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Alaska, New York, and national parks throughout the United States. At first blush, the issues we faced seemed to revolve principally around aircraft sound impacts at national parks and the implementation of regulations to curtail those impacts. However, it became clear to me that the underlying issue was much broader than that. As I learned through my interactions with representatives from the environmental community, the issue was really about fundamental philosophical differences between users of common resources.
As an example, one individual told me that he opposed any aircraft overflights at the Grand Canyon because, he said, “I want to be able to sit in my office in Chicago and know that the Grand Canyon is quiet.” In other words, the issue was not whether he actually heard aircraft at the Grand Canyon; it was whether he would hear aircraft at the Grand Canyon, if he were there. Similarly, another person told me that even gliders should be forbidden from flying over the Grand Canyon because he did not want to see any aircraft. Thus, even eliminating aircraft sound altogether is not good enough for some.
While these positions may seem absurd, I learned that we gain nothing by disparaging or minimizing the beliefs of others who may think differently about aircraft sound or airport use than we do. In my experience, the key to resolving disputes over airport use and aircraft sound impacts is mutual respect, cooperation, and the free exchange of ideas. While it is true that sometimes a court must decide how best to resolve airport and aircraft disputes, it is my view that court intervention should only be required in rare instances where all good faith efforts have failed to cooperatively address these issues. I am hopeful that other communities will learn from the examples of Santa Monica, Vakaria, and Hemet-Ryan and will begin working with the aviation community in addressing their concerns rather than employing the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach that appears to have limited value, if any
Daniel W. Anderson, Anderson | Pinkard