Bob Benyo, president of Aerial Banners North, says he is ready to fight in court for his companyʻs right to keep towing advertising banners over Oahu.
Benyo says Aerial Bannersʻ small yellow plane will be in the air this weekend with at least two flights to tow aerial banners over local beaches.
“I have zero intention of stopping until someone in the U.S. government, someone from the Federal Aviation Administration, tells me to stop,” said Benyo, who was reached by telephone in his office in Hollywood, Florida.
Benyo says he could understand people being angry if he wanted to fly over tranquil rural areas but he says downtown Honolulu is a city just like any other big city, and cities have aerial advertising.
Aerial Banners North flew over Bellows Beach on the Fourth of July.
Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat
“I don’t like upsetting people, but what we are doing is allowed in every state, including Alaska.”
“And we are not up in the air for a long time. The plane whizzes by in 30 seconds and is gone. We are not up there for hours.”
Benyo says his pilot this weekend will tow a banner across Oahu carrying a client’s “happy birthday” wish.
Another banner expected to be hauled over Honolulu will say, “Will you marry me?”
Benyo says he continues to get requests for banners with personal messages but his potential business clients in Honolulu “have gotten cold feet” and are holding off until Aerial Bannersʻ case is sorted out in court.
The company insists it has the right to fly advertising messages in Hawaii despite state and county laws that prohibit aerial advertising.
An Aerial Bannersʻ pilot was cited July 4 by the Honolulu Police Department for breaking county law after the pilot flew across the North Shore and Kailua Beach hauling banners saying, “ABN loves America” — the company refers to itself by its initials — and “God Bless USA.”
His company’s own-self promotion materials say banners towed by planes are very effective way to advertise because when people hear the noise of a plane they automatically look up to glance at the ad.
The citation carries a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of 30 days in jail, or both.
The pilot also flew across Oahu on Memorial Day weekend towing a large American flag.
The pilot will appear on August 5 in state district court. Aerial Banners attorney Michael McAllister says the company will defend the pilot and, he says, if the company is also slapped with a citation later, “It will vigorously defend itself.”
Aerial Banners insists a Federal Aviation Administration waiver allows it to fly banners in every state, including Hawaii.
But the FAA itself clarified that the waiver does not supersede Hawaii’s state laws and county ordinances, which forbid “outdoor, off-premise advertising.”
Off-premise means any outdoor advertising that is done away from the business itself, and that includes aerial advertising.
The cityʻs aerial advertising ban has been challenged twice and upheld each time by the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has told Aerial Banners to stop and The Outdoor Circle has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company.
Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has notified Aerial Banners North that it is operating in violation of city and state laws and will be cited and prosecuted.
The Outdoor Circle says it received dozens of complaints from members after the Aerial Bannersʻ Memorial Day flight over the North Shore and Kailua Beaches.
Outdoor Circle executive director Marti Townsend says. “I am disappointed to hear Aerial Banners is undeterred by the public outcry as well as the clarification by the FAA that what it is doing is illegal.”
“This particular area of the law has already been settled and it is unfortunate the we have to spend public money to explain this once again.”
Benyo says it is not his intention to be disrespectful. He says the company will not fly over peopleʻs homes in the suburbs but that it will restrict will its flights to Oahuʻs beaches, “because it is our job to fly where people gather” and over crowded highways during drive time traffic.
An Aerial Banners North pilot on his first solo site, according to the site’s Facebook page.
Courtesy of Aerial Banners North
“It might be nice for people to read something when they are stuck in traffic,” says Benyo.
He says he will never fly banners like the anti-abortion group, Bio-Ethical Reform, which in 2003 illegally hired small planes to tow banners over Oahu that showed aborted fetuses.
“I want to keep it clean. I want to keep away from advertising that turns people’s stomachs. We will keep the content of the advertising as G-rated as possible”
Benyo says it is also his intention to limit his aerial advertising business to Oahu and Maui, rather than the entire state. But he says, “That may change.”
His company’s self-promotion materials say banners towed by planes are very effective way to advertise because when people hear the noise of a plane they automatically look up to glance at the ad.
The plane that Aerial Banners uses on Oahu is a Piper Pawnee, a single engine plane often used for crop dusting. It flies out of Kalaeloa Airport.
When I asked Benyo about noise pollution and the nuisance of his plane flying by Oahuʻs beaches when beach goers are trying to relax, he said, “All airplanes make noise, cars make noise. Noise is a part of life. Airplanes are going to be here forever.”
“I hope to win public opinion by flying banners for charities and flying public service announcements. Then maybe everyone will know we are not such bad guys.” — Bob Benyo, president of Aerial Banners North
Benyo says he has been in the aerial advertising business for 20 years, operating three aerial advertising companies. He has 50 employees in 27 different markets.
Benyo is aware of the public outcry about Aerial Bannersʻ flights. When I tell him I also disagree with his push to fly advertising banners over Oahu, he thanks me.
“I understand. You are a native. I respect your position but I respectfully disagree with you.
“I am not trying to change the way you guys think. I am only trying to follow the law,” he says. “The waiver allows our company to fly legally. We have a legal right to fly from Kalaeloa Airport.”
“I know the Outdoor Circle is powerful. I am proud of it and I respect it. I just think it is barking up the wrong tree. They will soon realize it is the federal government that controls air space not the counties and the states,” he says.
Benyo stresses again that he will only pull up stakes in Hawaii when a federal judge or the FAA tells him to stop.
“I am not a cowboy. I am not a renegade. I am not looking for a fight,” he says.
Benyo says he hopes to prevail in court. He says after that happens, “I hope to win public opinion by flying banners for charities and flying public service announcements. Then maybe everyone will know we are not such bad guys.”
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.