The city council in Torrance, California, is trying to ban touch and goes at its airport despite warnings from aviation groups and the FAA that it’s blatantly illegal. Zamperini Field is home to 10 flight schools and the Robinson Helicopter factory. After decades of noise complaints and numerous attempts to whittle down access to the facility, the council turned all objections aside in late October, saying they were carrying out the will of the people. “I believe we are here for the constituents, we represent them,” council member Asam Sheikh is quoted by the Daily Breeze as saying. “We don’t have to be expert on anything when we make decisions. We have to represent the community and that’s the only thing we should be expert on.”
The FAA (whom we’ve contacted for comment) will have something to say about that. Decades of precedent has firmly established aeronautical operations as a federal responsibility and the FAA told the city as much in a 2020 letter. The agency told the city there are ways it can minimize airport noise but telling pilots when, where and how they fly is beyond its jurisdiction. It said the city’s power “does not extend to many aspects of aircraft operations, including route, altitude, time of operation and frequency.”
The FAA is lacking some of the clout it uses routinely to deal with airport operational disputes. Torrance is not federally obligated, meaning it hasn’t recently received federal funding. Acceptance of federal grants always comes with conditions requiring the airport to operate according to FAA rules regarding access and certain operational matters. Violation of those conditions can result in the local jurisdiction having to pay back those grants, which are often in the millions of dollars. The FAA says it will comment further on Wednesday.
In their letter, the aviation groups urged the council to “to avoid the waste of taxpayer funds in attempting to defend clear violations of the law.” Torrance is also attempting to ban the sale of 100LL, imposing landing fees on transient aircraft and capping the number of flight schools on the field. The Daily Breeze reported city staff are aware of all the legal twists and turns and are taking their time to research the impacts of council’s resolution. It could be a year before they report their findings back to the politicians.