Lantana Airport Jet Ban
The FAA will decide if LNA has the right to ban jets based on a restriction from 1973.
Airports are usually considered to be an important civic asset; the runway connects the community to national and international commerce. Congress, recognizing that value on a national basis, instituted a program designed to support cities and counties which are willing to sponsor such projects. As usual with the federal government, the grant of money carries with it “strings.” The authorizing statute compels that the recipient/sponsor comply with “Assurances.”
Since 1941, Palm Beach County Park Airport (LNA or Lantana Airport) has been an airport in Palm Beach County, Florida. As a county owned, public use airport, it was included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011–2015, which categorized it as a reliever airport. LNA has received FAA AIP grants and therefore is subject to the Assurances.
One of these obligations reads as follows:
22. Economic Nondiscrimination.
a. It will make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical activities offering services to the public at the airport.
“No jet traffic at Lantana,” Palm Beach County airport spokeswoman Casandra Davis recently stated. “That is the department’s position. The airport division maintains that the 44-year-old ban still stands. This position was issued in response to a complaint filed by 76-year-old retired Eastern Airlines pilot Errol Forman of Hypoluxo. He twice landed his private Cessna Citation 501 1/SP at LNA. The aircraft weighs less than 12,500 pounds. It is not employed in air cargo operations nor is it flown in scheduled commercial air carrier passenger flights.
Soon thereafter, Airports Director Bruce Pelly wrote Forman to say that the pilot was “en route” to a second-degree misdemeanor charge, which would come with a penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. He further explained that the prohibition is the subject of a 1973 agreement in which the Federal Aviation Administration gave the county authority to ban jets.
In April 2016, Captain Forman filed a Part 13 informal complaint. Not permitting his relatively quiet jet to land at LNA violates Assurance 22a. Palm Beach County filed its answer on June 10, 2016. Then Allan Armstrong, an aviation attorney, became involved and he filed a reply on July 21, 2016.
About 5 months later, airport compliance specialist Deandra Brooks wrote that the agency “has concluded that permitting jet aircraft operations” on the one runway “will not affect safety or efficiency at LNA (Lantana) or surrounding airports.” The FAA made a preliminary review finding the jet ban appeared to violate Sponsor Grant Assurance No. 22(a). That is “FAA jargon” for the possibility, if not likelihood, that the failure to comply might make the County ineligible to receive federal funding for the airport.
LNA is not the only aviation asset of Palm Beach County; it is also the sponsor of Palm Beach International Airport, North County General Aviation Airport near Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach Glades Airport in Pahokee. If the FAA issues a final determination that the LNA jet ban puts the sponsor in violation, then the County’s eligibility to receive grant for all of them is at risk.
In the course of such a complaint, the FAA needed to assess whether the County’s rule was based on any safety restrictions. On March 17, 2017, the FAA provided a report saying an air traffic study permitted the operation of jet aircraft from Runway 9/27.
Palm Beach County has 60 days to provide the FAA and Florida Dept. of Transportation with a new rule which does not unreasonably discriminate against Captain Forman’s plane or other similar aircraft. The FAA study eliminated any safety grounds for allowing turboprops, but prohibiting all jets.
More than likely, the County will attempt to argue that its policy predates the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1991, 49 USC §47521 et seq. and therefore, is grandfathered from those requirements. The reference of Spokesperson Day to a 44-year-old ban and by Director Pelly to a 1973 agreement.
That would have been a valid defense but for the County’s decision to reissue that initial rule. The June 19, 1973 “policy” under “Noise Regulation” read:
“All jet aircraft in addition to all aircraft weighing in excess of 12,500 pounds engaged in aircraft cargo operations, shall be prohibited from parking, landing, or taking off from the Lantana Airport.”
Someone in 1988 decided that the 1973 policy needed to be superseded and withdrawn. Then the “policy” was enacted in R-98-220. Section 12-4 and 12-5 under the caption “Noise Abatement and Control—Lantana Airport.” Another provision was added as Section 12-6, captioned “Use Restriction.” It reads as follows:
“(a) Pure turbo-jet aircraft and aircraft in excess of 12,500 pounds engaging in air cargo operations are prohibited; (b) All regularly scheduled commercial air carrier passenger flights are prohibited.”
The 2017 FAA letter indicates that the 1973 policy, now in effect, cannot be justified.
According to the County’s airport counsel, the 1973 restriction “has been the subject of numerous FAA informal investigations, meeting and correspondence over the course of the past 43 years [and] has repeatedly found” that the county has the right to enforce the ban.
The FAA process will decide which view of history is supported by the agency’s records and recollections. If the FAA orders the 1973 ban to be voided, there are existing, though extremely exacting, processes to justify such a prohibition. It is, however, very possible that after a noise review, Captain Forman’s quiet plane will be allowed to land at LNA.
On the other hand, if found to be in violation and if the county refuses to rescind it, millions of AIP grants could be at risk for all of the palm beach county airports.