Aviators Sued By Local Residents For Aircraft Noise
On Tuesday, AOPA
provided initial support to four Massachusetts pilots -- all AOPA
members -- facing a lawsuit filed by a few residents. The suit
alleges that the noise signature from the aerobatics performed by
the pilots caused significant harm; they are seeking approximately
$1 million in damages. The pilots are based at various airports,
some 20 miles from the homes of the litigants.
"This is potentially an issue that could affect all pilots
engaged in any type of air commerce — from a Cub to a 747,"
said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We are fully prepared to take this
through the federal system if necessary.
"A small group of vocal protesters simply cannot be allowed to
usurp airspace regulation from the federal government. Pilots who
operate in accordance with the federal aviation regulations, as
these four have — even by the admission of the litigants,
should not be targeted for following the rules."
The four pilots face a lawsuit brought by a group of area
citizens calling itself "Stop The Noise." The group is headed by a
lawyer who owns a home in Ayer, Massachusetts, a rural area west of
Boston. He claims that the legal practice flights violate the
group's property rights and create a public health hazard due to
noise pollution. The group has recently expanded its scope and has
also targeted motorcycles and Sport pilots. To get a sense of just
how fanatical an anti-aviation radical can be — and how
pilots are being maligned, spend just a few minutes browsing their
Web site at www.stopthenoise.org.
At a meeting with the defendants, AOPA President Phil Boyer,
AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn, and AOPA General Counsel
John Yodice presented their attorneys (pictued below) with
extensive legal research -- done at the request of the
attorneys -- to help defend the pilots against the nuisance
allegation. The association also made a significant donation toward
the costs of the defendants' legal fees and plans to file a "friend
of the court" brief.
As Gary Arber, a Brookline, Massachusetts, attorney who
represents a client involved in the case noted, "The importance of
this case cannot be overstated." Arber, an AOPA member, an AOPA
Legal Services panel attorney, and the owner of an Arrow,
continued: "There are potentially dangerous precedents to be set if
we were to ignore this case or through any concessions that we
might make. My personal feeling is that this case must be fought
— and fought hard."
The pilots named in the suit strongly contend that they
conducted their aerobatic training flights in full compliance with
FAR 91.303 by not operating over congested areas and staying 1,500
feet or more above ground level. Even assuming the four pilots
prevail in the lawsuit against them, they face potentially
thousands of dollars each in legal fees. AOPA made a donation today
to help defray those costs.
While in Ayer, Boyer also met with the managing editor and the
staff writer covering the story for the local newspaper, the Public
Spirit, which has written several articles covering this suit.
Along with Yodice, Dunn, and Jeff Myers, executive vice president
Communications, Boyer provided a comprehensive overview of the GA
community, including statistics on the economic benefits of Hanscom
Field (about $100 million a year to the area), GA in general (about
$1 billion a year to the state), and even key statistics regarding
the benefits of air shows and their aerobatics.
"Because the anti-noise group is local, we felt it was important
to make sure the Public Spirit's editorial board be familiar with
general aviation," said Boyer. "We wanted to make sure the managing
editor and writer understood how practice areas are chosen and
Both Managing Editor
Kate Walsh and writer Don Eriksson were very open to the AOPA
presentation and point of view. Both expressed a new appreciation
of GA and the issues involved. "As a young girl I used to lie in
the grass and watch the airplanes pass by. I loved the sound
— and still do," Walsh said.
AOPA has long advocated pilots taking into account the feelings
and sensibilities of airport neighbors, as well as those over whose
property they fly. The association produced a video called Flying
Friendly, which explains what pilots can do to minimize their noise
signature and keep their neighbors happy. The video is available to
both individual pilots and pilot clubs. AOPA urges all pilots to
watch the video and then be good neighbors.
"Pilots who fly according to federal regulations should be
commended, not penalized," said Boyer. "AOPA will stand behind
these pilots and, as always, will apply appropriate leverage to
defend general aviation."