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Local Regulation of Airport Expansion Preempted by FAA

TRB's The Natural Lawyer

In October 2008, a federal district court held that local land use regulation of an airport runway project was impliedly preempted by the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq. ("Aviation Act").  Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority v. Town of East Haven, 582 F. Supp. 2d 261 (D. Conn. 2008) ("New Haven"). 

In New Haven, the New Haven Airport Authority ("Authority") was undertaking an improvement project in order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") regulations related to runway safety areas.  The Authority presented its project to the East Haven Town Council ("Town Council"), which rejected the Authority's development application.  In addition, the East Haven Inland Wetland and Watercourse Commission ("Wetlands Commission") asserted its regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands impacted by the Authority's runway project and issued a cease and desist order barring further action on the Authority's project.  The Authority then filed a lawsuit on the basis that the actions of the Town Council and Wetlands Commission to block the runway project were preempted by federal and state law, including the Aviation Act. 

The court agreed with the Authority holding that although the local land use regulations were not expressly preempted by the Aviation Act they were impliedly preempted because Congress intended to fully occupy and regulate the field of airline safety, and the Authority's project was being implemented in order to meet FAA safety standards and was being undertaken within the boundaries of the existing airport.  As such, the court permanently enjoined actions of the Town Council and Wetlands Commission to block the Authority's runway project. 

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