Quiet Conflict in Naples, FL

Quiet Conflict in Naples, FL

A corporate airport becomes a hot button with FAA and industry

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

March 2001

NAPLES, FL — People come here for the quiet, the warm air. That, in brief, is why the Naples Municipal Airport has become a national focal point for the noise issue facing airports. It is operated by an authority not afraid to challenge federal authorities and to spend money, particularly when the FAA is attempting to enforce a regulation that still requires definition. Ted Soliday and Lisa LeBlancHutchings are at the center of the Naples noise controversy

It is a developing story, with FAA putting a temporary halt to a ban by the Naples Airport Authority of Stage 2 aircraft under 75,000 lbs. — i.e., corporate jets. It is becoming an important story, a precedent, as other airports and their sponsors take a closer look at a basically new regulation — FAR Part 161 — and how it might permit having a greater say in what types of aircraft use their airports.
It’s also about the reaction of the users, particularly the corporations that are members of the National Business Aviation Association, which is taking the Naples authority to court over the Stage 2 ban, which went into effect January 1. Following FAA objections to the associated Part 161 filing by the authority, the ban was temporarily halted while the various parties work toward a resolution.
FAA has yet to approve a Part 161 filing, and Soliday and others question whether the agency is, like Indiana Jones, charging ahead but making it up as they go along. The Part 161 filing is the basic premise the authority is using on which to base its purview for the Stage 2 ban. NBAA charges the move is unconstitutional and would have a negative impact on the national transportation system.
The FAA did not return phone calls for this article, but has been quoted as having reservations about whether or not the Naples ban is reasonable under the grant assurances, and that banning a class of aircraft is a very big deal (AIRPORTS, Feb. 13).
Ted Soliday, executive director at Naples Municipal, explains, "In the ’90s, we started a master plan to really look at all issues environmentally. One of the early things we did was weight testing and runway testing, and we determined that the airport should serve smaller aircraft. So we put our design limits to 75,000 lbs. and smaller."
Meanwhile, the 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act by Congress directed FAA to implement new standards that would eliminate large commercial Stage 2 aircraft (above 75,000 lbs.) and allow a mechanism for more local control, the new Part 161. "We don’t question that that’s positive," says Soliday. "But to airports like Naples that serve aircraft under 75,000 lbs., there is no direct benefit. If fact, when you see a G-II take off from here, that’s the same engines that a DC-9-10 has. How can that be?"

the history
Naples today is much as it has been: a quiet, warm Gulf Coast community of little more than 20,000 residents adjacent to white sandy beaches and resorts such as Marco Island. Go east, you sail. Go west, you walk with the alligators in the Everglades. In between, you golf, with some 60 golf courses and another 20 approved but not yet built.
It lies within Collier County, population 200,000-plus and the largest county east of the Mississippi, which is burgeoning with growth. The city and the county appear to be at ongoing odds regarding development.
In Naples, there is little room for growth, and it is within that confine that the Naples Municipal Airport sits, ready to serve newly retired corporates who fly in their personal jets for a winter home. Alas, cry the residents, may they not have Stage 2 engines?
Understand the makeup of the community, says Soliday, and one can see why the Naples confrontation with FAA over Part 161 should not become a national symbol. It is not, he points out, a larger commercial airport with an ability to expand. It will remain a predominately corporate airport with commuter service. This is an issue based on a community’s quiet and serene history. To that mix has been added the new Part 161, which was intended by Congress to afford communities more local control over an airport’s activities.
Noise has been a focus of the community and the airport since the 1970s, says Soliday. Interestingly, however, compatible zoning with the airport was not on the radar screen.
Explains Soliday, a former airport consultant, "I’ve done an awful lot of noise studies, and I don’t know of a general aviation or commuter-type airport like ours that has some 25 percent of our activity that is jets. You put the turboprops in there, and the number goes way up.
"We serve small aircraft. This gets into some of what FAA and NBAA are upset about. They keep saying 65 ldn; if we zoned to 65, which we did in many ways, we’re still a little airport. You know, the city actually uses noise monitors and uses 60 decibels to determine whether a restaurant, or you and I outside with the patio open, are creating too much noise.
"If that noise exceeds 60 decibels, they will warn you first and then they’ll cite you."

the next phase
For its part, says Soliday, FAA officials at the highest level have made the Naples noise issue a high priority, to the point of appearing on a forum that was televised locally. The authority has passed a resolution temporarily waiving the ban. FAA has assigned the airport the task of reformulating the studies — costing some half million dollars — it has already done and demonstrate how they meet 161 requirements. In particular, according to reports, the key question could become that of grant assurances and why this does not negatively affect that national transportation system.
Comments Lisa LeBlanc-Hutch-ings, who has directed the noise efforts at Naples, "We’re not against aviation. But 161 was a process that Congress established and it clearly said in the act that there would be small airports where noise would be more sensitive."
Says Soliday, "No one questions that we have a noise problem, but how do you define that noise problem? On a national basis, FAA kind of uses the metric of 65 ldn, which is on an annualized basis. And in Part 161, the law and the regulation, they say we must use — must use — an annualized metric to determine how the problem is measured.
"The FAA doesn’t accept seasonal contours, so everybody is banging on us because we used 60 ldn. They’ve used 60 ldn many times in Part 150. The FAA has even done flight procedure changes based on 60 ldn, so it’s not without precedent.
"If we’re required to use an annualized metric, and if this authority is given by Congress the responsibility for making the decision as long as it’s a Stage 2 or a Stage 1 restriction, then this authority should have the determination of what’s reasonable and what’s not."
The situation with Naples and the uncertainty of how FAR Part 161 will ultimately be defined are work in process, it seems. In the meantime, other airports and their communities are watching the players here, awaiting the next stage.