Appeals Court Blocks HTO Restriction

 - November 4, 2016, 2:41 PM

In a ruling that solidifies federal pre-emption over airport access restrictions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit today agreed to a preliminary injunction blocking nighttime curfews and other access restrictions at East Hampton Airport (HTO). The ruling comes about a month after the town of East Hampton had issued a series of criminal summonses to a number of Part 135 and 91 operators for alleged noise and curfew violations at HTO.

The town in April 2015 had imposed an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew for all aircraft, an 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew for “noisy” aircraft and a limit of two “uses” per week for noisy aircraft between May 1 and October 31. Most business jets and helicopters are deemed "noisy" under East Hampton's definition.

NBAA joined operators, Helicopter Association International and the Friends of East Hampton Airport in a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block restrictions. In June 2015, a U.S. District Court blocked the weekly limits for noisy aircraft but permitted the nighttime curfews. The town had kept the nighttime restrictions, but until recently, had not enforced them.

The Appeals Court, however, called on the lower court to bar all three restrictions, citing a non-compliance with federal airport noise law, the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA). “It appears undisputed that the town enacted all three laws without complying with ANCA’s procedural requirements, which apply to public airport operators regardless of their federal funding status,” the court said. ANCA requires a detailed study and FAA approval before an airport can impose noise-based access restrictions.

"We conclude...that federal law mandates that such laws be enacted according to specified procedures, without which they cannot claim the proprietor exception to federal pre-emption," the Appeals Court added.

“NBAA has long advocated against unlawful and unreasonable restrictions being imposed at East Hampton Airport,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We are gratified that the Second Circuit agrees that East Hampton remains bound by ANCA and related FAA policy and regulations.”

Noting that Congress adopted ANCA to prevent access restrictions from being imposed on a piecemeal basis, Bolen added, “The success of aviation—both general aviation and commercial aviation—depends on having a uniform and consistent set of rules.”

“Today’s decision by the Second Circuit is an important recognition that East Hampton’s laws are preempted by ANCA, which applies to all public airports,” agreed General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce. “Given the strong reasoning of the decision, we hope other courts will follow this important precedent.”

In light of the decision, National Air Transportation Association president Martin Hiller called on East Hampton “to immediately rescind the 38 airport curfew criminal summonses it has issued related to these illegal restrictions and to refund the fines already levied on innocent general aviation operators."