Court Upholds Honolulu Ordinance Banning Helicopter-towing Aerial Ads

JANUARY 9, 2002

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld Honolulu's ban on aerial advertising, affirming U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor's October 1998 denial of a challenge to the city ordinance brought by SkySign International. (Skysign Intern., Inc. v. City and County of Honolulu)

SkySign filed suit in October 1997, after the Honolulu City Council moved to ban the flights. The company had drawn community complaints over its use of a helicopter at night to tow an electronic sign 8 feet high and 36 feet long.

Gillmor ruled that the state had an overwhelming aesthetic interest in what happened in the air because Hawaii's economy depends heavily on the beauty of the islands.

SkySign argued that state laws do not apply to the skies and that all regulation of air traffic was the responsibility of the Federal Aviation Administration which had granted it certificates to operate over Oahu. FAA officials at the time said local ordinances could not preempt FAA regulations.

However, the court said, "advertising is an area traditionally subject to regulation under the states' police power, and we therefore presume that federal law does not displace Honolulu's regulatory authority over advertising absent a clear statement of the federal intent to do so."

In its ruling the appeals court noted that the FAA waivers given SkySign contained a provision explicitly noting that the operator was aware of local ordinances relating to aerial signs.

SkySign's attorney, David Gierlach, was in a meeting and not immediately available to comment on the ruling, his office said.

Source: Associated Press via Honoluly Star Bulletin