The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has affirmed a Federal Aviation Administration ruling allowing Allegiant Air to offer commercial flights at Trenton-Mercer Airport in Ewing, New Jersey.
The appeals court rejected claims by a group representing persons living across the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who claimed the FAA failed to adequately consider noise impact generated by Allegiant’s operations.
Allegiant sought approval to conduct seven takeoffs and seven landings per day at Trenton-Mercer, which is owned by the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The FAA granted the airline’s application in November 2016, concluding that no significant impacts would result from Allegiant’s operations. The decision was appealed to the Third Circuit by a group called Bucks Residents for Responsible Airport Management and three members of the group. BRRAM members, centered in the towns of Yardley and Lower Makefield, say that planes taking off and landing at the airport make approaches over their homes.
The Trenton-Mercer Airport was built by the U.S. Navy in 1924 and saw its first commercial flights in the 1950s.
The appellants said the scope of the environmental study should not have been confined to Allegiant’s 14 weekly flights, but should have also considered additional flights that Allegiant might add in the future as well as flights by other airlines.
The appellants claimed that the FAA should have produced an environmental impact statement, a type of wide-ranging study, about the arrival of Allegiant because the expansion had the potential for significant impact on noise levels in noise-sensitive areas. The FAA maintained that it did not have to perform an environmental impact statement under a categorical exclusion for “operating specifications and amendments that do not significantly change the operating environment of the airport.”
The appeals court noted that the FAA considered a noise study by Allegiant as well as a broader study of noise impact that was conducted by the airport itself, before making its decision, Judges Julio Fuentes, Michael Chagares and Thomas Vanaskie ruled. The appellants did not challenge the validity of the airport’s study, which showed that Allegiant’s operations would not have a significant impact on noise in the area, and on that basis, the appeals court concluded that the FAA did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner when it concluded that an environmental impact statement need not be conducted.
Allegiant began serving Trenton-Mercer Airport in November 2016, where it joins Frontier Airlines.
R. William Potter, of Potter and Dickson in Princeton, New Jersey, who represents BRRAM, said he was disappointed by the ruling and that he wants Congress to take up the FAA’s “unwritten policy” that it has no legal duty to conduct a cumulative impact analysis in circumstances such as the present one.
An attorney for Allegiant, James Auslander of Beveridge & Diamond in Washington, said the ruling is notable because it “upholds the use of efficient procedures when actions do not pose significant environmental impact.”
Joan Pepin, a Department of Justice lawyer who represented the FAA, declined to comment.