2nd suit filed in VNY noise dispute

 - November 2, 2007, 10:33 AM

XtraJet, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based charter firm, has become the second operator to be sued by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners for allegedly committing repeated violations of the noise restrictions at Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Earlier, the board filed a similar suit against charter operator Pacific Jet. The Pacific Jet case is awaiting assignment of a trial date. The legal actions come as part of the city’s crackdown of the so-called nonaddition rule, under which Stage 2 jets had to meet certain residency requirements to be grandfathered from a ban of operations at VNY.

Further, transient Stage 2 aircraft are limited to using the airport a maximum of 30 calendar days per year. The XtraJet lawsuit seeks more than $4 million in fines and asks that XtraJet be banned from using Van Nuys Airport for three years. But XtraJet says it has done nothing wrong.

Though its aircraft are not among those that meet the grandfather residency requirements, the operator claims to have purchased grandfather rights from the operators of other aircraft that were grandfathered. “We have been operating within the guidelines of the regulation,” XtraJet president Mark Bethea told AIN. “We purchased landing rights from the owners of grandfathered [Stage 2] airplanes no longer based at Van Nuys and assigned them to our [Stage 2] airplanes, which is perfectly legal.”

Bethea called the lawsuit political grandstanding. He said XtraJet spent about nine months proving its case to the airport authority and thought they had a settlement as of early September, just before the lawsuit was filed. “They said they wanted a pony and we showed them a pony,” he said. “Then they said they wanted a horse.”

Bethea said the airport authority has provisions for purchasing and transferring the grandfather Stage 2 rights from one aircraft to another. He said XtraJet filed the forms with the authority, but was told three months later that the authority had no record that the forms had been received. Though Bethea then re-sent the forms, he said XtraJet was held liable for that time period in the lawsuit. He further said that after XtraJet had shown the airport authority legal documentation for its operations, the authority asked him to go back to the operators of the original grandfathered aircraft to sign another form. He said, “They have put up obstacle after obstacle causing us to prove and reprove again. There’s just no end.”

The lawsuit, filed by the “City of Los Angeles, a municipal corporation,” lists XtraJet as a defendant, together with two other companies (Pavair and WW191) and Jeffrey Borer, described as “a responsible party for defendants XtraJet and Pavair.” The suit further names “Does 1 through 70 inclusive” and continues, “when the true names and capacities of said Defendants are ascertained by Plaintiff, Plaintiff will ask leave to amend this Complaint and insert such true names and capacities.”

Seven specific aircraft are named in the lawsuit–five Gulfstream IIs, a Hawker 600A (registered to WW191 of Santa Monica) and a Lear Jet 24B. The Lear represented the lengthiest violation, allegedly parked for 242 days during last year, while one of the GIIs was parked for only 49 days, 19 over the limit, according to the court filing.

As the lawsuit works its way through the legal system, aircraft operators across the country will be watching to see the final outcome. Bethea said, “We will have to put in hundreds more hours to prove to the court what we have already proved to the airport [authority].”