Salem City Council Strikes Down License Request
The NIMBYs have spoken in Salem,
OR... but they might not have the final say.
Last week, the Salem City Council voted to deny a license to
Leading Edge Aviation, a helicopter flight training school hoping
to set up shop at Salem Municipal Airport/McNary Field (SLE.)
Councilors said the school posed "health, safety and welfare"
School officials haven't decided yet how to respond, but one of
their options is to ask the FAA for help. FAA spokesman Mike Fergus
told the Salem Statesman-Journal the agency is concerned the denial
puts federal funding for SLE at risk, noting "from the standpoint
it would be a discrimination of access."
Leading Edge vice-president Travis Warthen said the council's
decision overturned a city advisory board recommendation, and went
against advice from city staffers. "It isn't within the city's
power to do what they are trying to do -- and they know that,"
Warthen said. "They are waiting for the FAA to force their
Warthen adds councilors probably know that... and their denial
vote amounts to posturing to school opponents, many of them
neighbors living around SLE who oppose Leading Edge's proposed
school not necessarily over safety concerns, but rather because
they don't want to live with helicopter noise.
As ANN reported in May, those
neighbors rejoiced when the last helo school to operate at SLE --
now-defunct Silver State Helicopters -- closed up shop in
February... and they want to keep their neighborhoods quiet.
Salem officials acknowledge local governments must yield to the
FAA on matters of how, when or where aircraft may operate in
federal air space. And since SLE receives federal funding, they
can't decide to block access to certain users without just
Those staffers add the city does have limited authority over
commercial operations at the airport, however... and the council
decided that includes the right to block Leading Edge from setting
Should Leading Edge files a grievance with the FAA -- and
Warthen says that's the likely scenario -- the FAA will initially
attempt to reach an informal, amicable solution. If that approach
fails, a formal investigation will be launched, possibly resulting
in a formal order for SLE to allow the school to open.
If city leaders continue to defy the agency at that point...
well, then the lawyers get involved. Salem City Councilor Laura
Tesler -- who entered the motion to block Leading Edge, at the
request of her constituents -- believes it could just come to that,
"I have to be fairly constrained in my comments. There is
liability and probably litigation pending," Tesler said.
Another option for Leading Edge would be to re-apply for a
license... though given the level of scrutiny his school faced the
first time around, Warthen doesn't expect Leading Edge to go
through that process again.