Updated August 5, 2016
Local Airports Who Owns the Airport?
Federal Preemption of State and Local Law Concerning Aviation Noise A brief discussion of preemption and an index of cases addressing the question of preemption of (1) state or local regulation of airport noise and (2) state-law causes of action based on airport noise, e.g, injunctive relief, inverse condemnation, or compensatory damages. The entire body of federal aviation law is vast and covers a variety of concerns; preemption in one area does not automatically translate into preemption in another.
Noise Disclosure System Implementation Study This preliminary study was prepared in 2004 for the FAA as required by the Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2003. It describes in general the issues surrounding writing a federal rule that would mandate disclosure of airport noise when land is sold. No further study was done, and aparently the idea has not been pursued by the FAA. (The link is to a 346 kB MS Word file - my apologies!)
Taking of Property: Avigation Easements and Zoning Regulations Primarily a general discussion of the purpose and limits of avigation easements. (See also "Who Controls Development in and Around an Airport?" above, as well as "Inverse Condemnation Actions" below.) Includes lists of federal and state cases.
Can Avigation Easements by Acquired by Prescription? When sued for nuisance by neighboring landowners, airports routinely assert that they have a prescriptive avigation easement over the plaintiff's land and therefore are not liable for any nuisance due to aircraft noise, fumes, or vibration. In theory a prescriptive avigation easement is acquired by simply flying over the property for a number of years (the number set by state law to perfect a claim for adverse possession).
Aircraft Noise Damages Although the liability of airports and pilots for aircraft noise is clear in theory, claims for damages, like all litigation, are constrained by a variety of procedural issues, notably the statute of limitations and proof (measurement) of damages. Complaints for damages are often filed with an alternative action in inverse condemnation (a takings claim), and the two theories are treated by some courts as interchangeable.
Inverse Condemnation Actions (Takings Claims) Airports rarely take the trouble to initiate a condemnation proceeding to acquire an avigation easement. When no avigation easement exists and air traffic produces adverse affects on neighboring property, the property owner can force the governmental owner of the airport or the governmental entity with zoning power over the property into a condemnation proceeding by filing an action in inverse condemnation. The purpose of the proceeding is to find that a de facto avigation easement exists, require the parties to execute a written agreement on an easement, and fix the amount of payment to the property owner for the easement (this amounts to the same thing as monetary damages for nuisance).
Nuisance Actions in Small Claims Court In California individual claims in small claims court can be consolidated into a "quasi-class action" (without the formalities of class action suits). This approach is useful, as in airport noise nuisance claims, where proof of case for an individual alone would be burdensome (and damages for the individual are capped at a small amount).
Challenges to Environmental Analysis Opponents of airport expansion often file lawsuits claiming that analyses of noise do not satisfy federal or state law. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) governs analyses for federal projects. Virtually every airport development project is a federal project because FAA approval is involved.
Disclosure of Records Two main issues arise. Airports and the FAA often resist disclosing records of airport operations that shed light on sources of noise or specific areas impacted. The airport may refer a citizen to the FAA, which may deny that it is responsible for the record requested -- or vice versa. Records disclosure is governed by the Freedom of Information Act (for FAA records) or state statutes on public records. A second issue is disclosure of the identity of individuals who complain to airports about noise. Public identification of complainants raises thorny issues of privacy versus the public's right to know and implicates the Petition Clause of the First Amendment.