America’s small airports often are under assault by those who believe that there is a “better” use for what is otherwise privately held land. Eminent domain abuse is nothing new and much has been said and written about it of late. Because of the New London decision by the Supreme Court a few years ago, local governments have gotten stars in their eyes about what they think they can do with OPP.
A small GA airport in rural New Jersey known as “Solberg” has been under withering assault for nearly a decade by the local township. Solberg has been around forever and is enjoyed by pilots and aircraft owners up and down the East Coast and beyond. A lovely family owns it and they have been nearly bankrupted in trying to protect what was legally theirs to peaceably enjoy.
Well, they won a huge victory. No only did the judge hearing the eminent domain claim turn the township away, it assessed millions of dollars in fines against it. See article.
What struck me, however, was what the Judge Paul Armstrong had to say and how well he understands the importance of general aviation which is often grossly mischaracterized as a playground for the rich. In his opinion, he said:
Not only is general aviation important to the national infrastructure, but it serves a critical role as the cradle of aviation. The security and economic vitality of the United States depends on this laboratory of flight where future civilian and military pilots are born. Airports such as Solberg blossomed in an era when local young men turned their dreams of barnstorming into air dominance in World War II and led this country into its golden age. These dreams still live in our youth, and general aviation endures as the proving ground for future pilots from all walks of life. Finally, there is a certain freedom that defines general aviation. Men and women throughout history gazed longingly at the soaring effortless freedom of birds, pondering release from the symbolic bondage of gravity. Only here can a man or woman walk onto some old farmer’s field and turn dreams into reality. As Charles Lindbergh once said: “What freedom lies in flying, what Godlike power it gives to men . . . I lose all consciousness in this strong unmortal space crowded with beauty, pierced with danger.
Well done, your Honor. Well done.
The author, Robert D. Schulte, is a partner in Air Fare America. He is an FAA-certificated pilot and continues to represent pilots and aviation professionals before the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.