Martha’s Vineyard Airport officials are denouncing pending state legislation that would require Massachusetts airports to impose a $1,000 fee on any personal, corporate-owned, or charter rental aircraft that touch down. The money from the fee would be invested in state infrastructure that has been affected by climate change.
The bill, which is being presented by State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, was rebuked by airport commission chair Bob Rosenbaum in a written response identifying the “far-reaching” challenges the legislation would create for Martha’s Vineyard, and pointing out elements that may violate, or be pre-empted by, federal statute.
Cyr did not return a message seeking comment.
“Although the commission applauds any effort to address climate change (and have ourselves committed to reducing the airport’s carbon footprint by 95 percent by 2040), we have a number of concerns with this bill and its impact on the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the Island community, and the airport users,” the letter reads.
Rosenbaum stresses that the hefty landing fee for all aircraft would scare off a large portion of the airport’s regular general aviation traffic.
At the airport, pilots pay a landing fee based on the size of their aircraft — “the current landing fees at the airport range from $15 for a small Aerostar to a maximum of $427.50 for a large Boeing 737-BBJ,” the letter reads. “The vast majority of aircraft landing at the airport pay less than $100 in landing fees.”
Rosenbaum notes that landing fees at Nantucket Memorial Airport and Barnstable Municipal Airport are comparable to the existing fee at MVY, but an additional $1,000 fee would dissuade individual pilots, as well as students in local flight schools, from flying anywhere in the commonwealth.
If such a large number of pilots cease to land on the Vineyard, the letter says, the airport would be forced to “dramatically downsize,” which would affect the overall Island economy.
A number of federal laws might also either pre-empt or be violated by certain aspects of the legislation, the letter states.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) policy for establishing rates, all charges for the use of any airport function must be “just, reasonable, not unjustly discriminatory, [and] equitably apportioned among categories of users.”
In the letter, Rosenbaum says it’s likely the FAA would consider the fee excessive, and in violation of that statute. He adds that the fee could open the airport up to legal disputes from private pilots who find it discriminatory.
Another part of the bill Rosenbaum objected to would require that half of the money collected from landing fees be used by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) “to invest in infrastructure owned by the commonwealth that requires repair and adaptation due to the effects of climate change.”
Rosenbaum says that particular section would violate the FAA’s requirement that all revenue generated by a federally obligated airport be used strictly for the capital and operating needs of that airport.
“We are prohibited from diverting that revenue to other branches of government or types of infrastructure that have nothing to do with the airport,” the letter reads. “The penalties for revenue diversion are serious, and could involve a loss of future grants from the FAA or a requirement that the airport repay grants it has already received, and spent, for capital projects.”
The last issue Rosenbaum raises in his letter is the bill’s overarching goal of mitigating climate change by establishing aircraft emissions regulations.
According to the letter, the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits states from implementing or trying to enforce aircraft emissions regulations.
“We think it is preempted by the CAA and, if challenged in court, would be struck down,” the letter reads. If enacted, Rosenbaum says, the bill “would pose enormous economic, practical, and legal challenges” for Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
Airport director Geoff Freeman told The Times he doesn’t think the legislation takes into account the impact such a fee would have on the economy of the commonwealth, let alone on federal regulations that protect the right of free travel.
“This would affect the mom and pops: your parents or your grandparents who have a hobby of flying an airplane. That would no longer exist, along with the biplane in Katama. It would effectively shut aviation down for those people,” Freeman said.
He added that the proposed bill was not aired within the Massachusetts Aviation Caucus, so there was no opportunity for airport officials to have any kind of discussion before the legislation was filed.
“I am extremely disappointed that something like this was snuck in in the dark of night months ago, and we are just finding it out now through an email response from an aide to [Cyr]. I find it really disrespectful, for him as a representative of the Cape and Islands.”