August 2, 2010

Business aviation access at some California airports has been in contentious debate for years, as local officials with Van Nuys (VNY) and Bob Hope (BUR) Airports have lobbied for restrictions on companies that rely on business airplanes from using the airports, most recently advocating for a nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The local officials’ arguments for the curfew and other restrictions, which are rooted in noise concerns, have largely failed thus far, thanks in part to NBAA’s advocacy efforts, which often invoke the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA), a federal statute adopted in 1990 that disallows airports from enacting nighttime curfews or other local restrictions to access without approval from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

In spite of the industry’s successful efforts to protect full access at the airports to date, NBAA Members have recently been given cause for renewed concern over the issue, because the airport officials have decided to take their case to Congress.

At the urging of officials with VNY and BUR Airports, California Reps. Brad Sherman (D-27-CA), Howard Berman (D-28-CA), and Adam Schiff (D-29-CA) sent a July 21 letter to Reps. James Oberstar (D-8-MN), and John Mica (R-7-FL) – Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the powerful U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure – requesting an exemption for VNY and BUR from the ANCA restrictions.

In their letter, the three California Congressman request that the exemption language be added to the multi-year FAA reauthorization bill, which Congress has been debating for several years. Although what steps, if any, Congress will take on the request remain to be seen, the decision to involve Congress demonstrates the airport authorities’ years-long commitment to pursuing access restrictions for business aviation.

For example, in 2009, after years of study, local airport authorities at BUR proposed a ban on night-time operations for both airline and business aviation flights. Under ANCA requirements, the proposed ban, which would have included even Stage 3 aircraft, had to be subjected to comprehensive research and review by FAA officials. Following a careful analysis of the research conducted on the proposed ban, the FAA ruled that the ban would be “unreasonable,” in part because the curfew would hinder commerce and worsen congestion elsewhere in the Los Angeles area, and also because a cost-benefit analysis demonstrated that less-costly alternatives to an outright ban – including the installation of insulation in nearby buildings – would provide greater benefits without obstructing the aviation traffic.

Following in the footsteps of the BUR officials, representatives for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which manages VNY, began a study similar to that conducted at BUR, with the aim of winning a ban on nighttime operations, as well as other access restrictions at the airport, including those for Stage 3 aircraft.

However, in the wake of the FAA’s rejection of the BUR study, LAWA officials studied their options for restricting business aviation at VNY, and adopted a different approach. Instead of submitting to the FAA a proposal that mirrored the one offered by BUR officials, LAWA representatives instead used a loophole in federal law allowing for the enactment of a ban on Stage 2 aircraft at VNY that had been proposed, but not adopted, before ANCA went into effect.

NBAA and other industry representatives cautioned that even such a limited ban on operations at VNY was unwarranted, and raised legal issues separate from ANCA. Unfortunately, the ban was nevertheless adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 2010, and will phase-out Stage 2 operations at VNY by 2014.

Here’s the clear lesson to take from this still-evolving story: This is a battle for nothing less than access for business aviation to airports, not just in California, but across the country. The ability to utilize the nation’s airports is fundamental to the success of business aviation, and NBAA will continue working to ensure that our system of airports remains fully available for public use on fair and reasonable terms, and without unjust discrimination.