The U.S. FAA has found Palm Beach County in violation of its airport grant assurance agreements for a long-standing ban on jets and cargo aircraft with mtows of more than 12,500 pounds at Palm Beach County Park Airport (LNA) in Lantana, Florida.
In a February 22 determination, Kevin Willis, director of the FAA’s Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, ordered the county to submit within 30 days a plan to lift the restrictions and notify airport users of the change. The county, which has the option to appeal, is reviewing the determination and weighing its options, said Peter Kirsch, who is representing Palm Beach.
The finding comes in response to a Part 16 complaint filed by pilot Errol Forman, who had received warnings from the county that two landings he made at LNA in Cessna Citation I/SP twinjet were in violation of airport restrictions and could result in fines and/or jail time.
Forman argued that the restrictions violated Grant Assurance 22, which requires airport operators to make the airport available for to all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical activity on fair and reasonable terms without unjust discrimination. Palm Beach has accepted $6.35 million in Airport Improvement Program grants for LNA since 1982.
The LNA operational restrictions originally traced back to 1973, and the county argued they were grandfathered under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA). The now nearly 30-year-old ANCA law was designed to move aircraft to the then quieter Stage 3 standards. ANCA also was intended to guard against a patchwork of new regulations around the country but grandfathered existing noise restrictions in place at the time.
However, in 1988 Palm Beach adopted a “comprehensive codification” of LNA airport regulations. With that codification, it also canceled regulations that dated before October 1987, Forman argued. Since the subsequent regulations did not initially specify the jet ban, Forman contended that the county needed to hold public meetings or conduct the appropriate noise studies before enacting the restrictions again.
The county, however, argued Forman went well beyond Part 16 jurisdiction with his dispute against the long-held interpretation of the restrictions and maintains that actions by the county had reaffirmed that the restrictions remained in place. “Notwithstanding…editorial changes over time and across contexts, the county has consistently interpreted and enforced the Lantana jet restriction just as it was first enacted in 1973,” the county said, and noted that regardless, its language had enabled it to prohibit operations “for any justifiable reasons.”
The county did “reaffirm and restate” the jet ban, as well as the ban on larger cargo operations in 1998. It further noted that the restriction is part of an effort on the airport’s part to alleviate community concerns.
However, the FAA said it found the county’s arguments “unconvincing” and agreed that the 1988 change and regulations canceled out the previous restrictions. Therefore, the ban was not grandfathered under ANCA.
Further, the FAA said the county did not defend the necessity of the ban with documented noise, safety, or efficiency concerns. Nor did it provide justification as to why it is in the best interest of safety, it added.
“Even if the ban could somehow be justified, as written it appears to be misunderstood and potentially misapplied, and this creates an inherent unjust discriminatory framework, which the county appears to exploit,” the FAA said.
“The director’s determination is logical, supported by the evidence in the record, and will be unassailable on appeal,” said Alan Armstrong, who represented Forman in the complaint. “The obvious truth is that when Palm Beach County rescinded the 1973 Ordinance, It divested itself of the argument that the jet ban was grandfathered from compliance with [ACNCA]. Consequently, with no evidence in the record that the county ever conducted a noise study, the jet ban was manifestly unreasonable and discriminatory.”
Armstrong added that the determination came to the “obvious and indisputable conclusions,” and said, “The time has come for Palm Beach County to comply with the director’s determination and open Lantana Airport to jet traffic.”