The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) expressed disappointment with a recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decision that allows the town of East Hampton, NY to use airport funds to pay for legal fees stemming from its unsuccessful effort to impose access restrictions at East Hampton Airport (HTO).
NBAA, in an appeal to the FAA of an administrative decision released in 2018, had maintained – and continues to maintain – that the town’s use of airport revenue to pay for its legal fees is contrary to agency precedent, is bad policy, and is at odds with congressional instructions. On July 23, 2020, the FAA released a final decision which found this misappropriation of funds by the town of East Hampton to be permissible.
“We are disappointed with the FAA’s decision,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “Operators at HTO were effectively double-charged in the fight for their right to use the airport. The town of East Hampton significantly raised the landing fees at HTO to generate additional revenue, at the same time that it was incurring the legal expenses associated with defending the unauthorized restrictions.”
The underlying litigation responded to an attempt by the town of East Hampton to impose a series of noise and access restrictions at HTO. Ultimately, the federal courts agreed with NBAA and local aviation operators that the restrictions violated federal requirements, and they have since been lifted.
In its appeal to the FAA, NBAA emphasized that East Hampton had been advised by its own counsel that the proposed restrictions were illegal, and that prior federal guidance had made clear that airport revenue can be used only for the benefit of an airport. NBAA stated that “the town had an explicit anti-airport and bad-faith agenda. The town openly refused to utilize the opportunities provided by, much less comply with, the applicable federal laws… the FAA is unlikely to ever have before it, in its own words, a clearer ‘unique’ case of the ‘abuse’ of airport accounts to fund impermissible legal expenditures.”
“The FAA’s recent decision essentially allows East Hampton to use airport monies to defend the indefensible, burdening the airport users with the costs,” noted Bolen, adding that NBAA, on behalf of its members and the many operators who utilize HTO and other airports across the nation, will continue to insist that FAA and airport sponsors promote the responsible use of airport funds.