Saturday, July 13, 2013

Should Federal Aviation Administration, San Francisco ban aerial advertising above America’s Cup?

Remember when former Mayor Gavin Newsom said “Who the heck needs the Olympics and the Super Bowl when you’ve got the America’s Cup?”

The Cup may have been pitched as the third-largest international sporting event in the world, but with only four teams competing and significantly scaled back economic impact projections, the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t even deemed the event worthy of the same airspace protections given to every San Francisco Giants and 49ers game.

“There won’t be a [temporary flight restriction] over the event,” FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said in an email. “We will issue advisories to pilots.”

For every major sporting event in a stadium, the FAA prohibits low-flying aircraft from coming within three nautical miles of the venue. City officials have been talking with the FAA for months, telling the federal agency that they expect up to 100,000 spectators a day along the waterfront for the final races in September, but to no avail.

“They said even with that kind of attendance that wouldn’t in and of itself justify flight restrictions unless there was a real safety and security situation they could identify,” said Michael Martin, the city’s point man on the Cup. “They told us they can put one in place very quickly if they see there’s a safety or security reason that requires it.”

Martin said other factors the FAA considers in issuing the restrictions are how much attention is being paid to the event, terrorist threats and even how important the attendees are (Sorry Larry Ellison, apparently being a billionaire software mogul ain’t all it’s cracked up to be).

Once it was clear that the FAA may not come through, the city turned to Plan B. On Monday, the Board of Supervisor’s Land Use and Development Committee will consider a city-sponsored ordinance to “prohibit the use of aircraft, self-propelled, or buoyant objects to display any sign or advertising device in the airspace” over the course area.

“It sounds sort of ominous when you read it, but it’s something we try to keep narrowly tailored,” Martin said. “It’s part of our running effort to keep safety paramount.”

Though Martin says safety is priority number one, the legislation is concerned with appearances first, stating that aerial signs and towing banners would “undermine the viewing experience” before getting to the “dangerous visual distractions” for sailors.

Leading Cup critic Supervisor John Avalos says the ordinance strikes him as an attempt by Ellison and his racing syndicate to exercise further control over the event.

“It seems absurd to try to limit where spectators’ eyes go,” Avalos said.

Lunsford said the FAA hasn’t had the opportunity to review the proposed ordinance. Martin said the city felt it could make its own rules about the airspace because Honolulu has a permanent ban on aerial advertising that was upheld by courts in 2006.

This post has been updated to include the FAA’s response.

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