JANUARY 23, 2001
Wary of taking the "drastic" measure of tossing out San Jose International Airport's curfew, a federal judge Monday asked the City of San Jose, the airport's owner, to consider granting a special exemption that would allow Larry Ellison's high-end private jet to fly late at night. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel set March 31 as the deadline for the city's decision.
But Monday's action may do nothing other than delay by two months a decision regarding the validity of the curfew. At a morning hearing Fogel indicated he didn't want to have to rule on the broader issue if the city could resolve Ellison's problem by granting the exemption. Ellison's attorney predicted afterward the city would find a reason to deny the exemption and the two sides would be back in court in a few months.
"We will see yet another very tortured and unreasonable interpretation of" the city's rules, said Edward P. Davis Jr., who represents Wing and a Prayer Inc., the company Ellison formed to own and operate his $38 million Gulfstream V. Ellison is CEO of Oracle Corp.
City officials say Ellison's plane has violated the curfew at San Jose International Airport at least a dozen times since June 1998 by taking off or landing between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. Although most small business jets are allowed to fly at the airport at any time, Ellison's plane was designed for a maximum take-off weight of 90,500 pounds, and the curfew restricts operations by airplanes designed for maximum take-off weights above 75,000 pounds.
Because of improvements in technology, the Gulfstream V is quieter than some lighter planes that are allowed to use the airport at any hour, but the city's curfew rules do not account for that fact. Ellison sued last year, saying either his plane should be declared in compliance with the rules or the curfew itself should be thrown out under federal law as "arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory."
Fogel told the city to decide by March 31 whether Ellison's plane is covered by an obscure and complicated exemption clause written into the city's rules in 1984.
"There are a lot of complicating factors," said City Attorney Rick Doyle. "The concern we always have is the potential to open up the floodgates to commercial and other flights that would really just eviscerate the program," Doyle said.
Source: San Jose Mercury News