AIN Blog: Resolution Seeks To Remove Aviation Uses at KSMO

 - August 22, 2016, 8:24 PM
SMO
Santa Monica Airport has full-time police protection, so why is the city looking to spend more money on security at its airport? (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Tonight Santa Monica City Council staffers will recommend that the council adopt a resolution to close the airport to aviation uses as part of an effort to shutter the airport by July 1, 2018. The resolution is expected to be adopted, but first those of us who are attending the council meeting are going to have to listen to an endless barrage of anti- and pro-airport opinionators voicing the same old reasons why the airport should be closed or remain open.

The resolution contains some interesting claims by the city, but it doesn’t address the big elephant in the room: the city’s instrument of transfer agreement after World War II to keep the airport open in perpetuity. That is subject to yet another legal battle, which is expected to go to trial next year. I’m assuming that’s why the city claims that it can close the airport in 2018.

Meanwhile, here’s what the city is planning to do, according to this resolution, which you should expect will be passed sometime late tonight:

  1. Start planning to build a “great park” on the airport’s 227 acres. Good luck with that. There are many who think that the idea that the city could get away with turning all 227 acres of some of the most valuable land on the planet into parkland is impossible. Property developers are salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on some of that land. 
  2. Investigate whether certain fractional jet operators are impermissibly operating as scheduled airlines.” What? Where did this come from? Certainly we know that NetJets and Flexjet and all sorts of charter operators fly customers into Santa Monica (and pay the exorbitant landing fees), but who in the city thinks that these are “scheduled airlines?” This is not how fractional-share operations work. Someone in the city needs to get a clue. Oh, I forgot, no one on the city’s airport commission, which advises the city council, has an iota of aviation background, so maybe this isn’t such a surprise.
  3. Apply to the FAA to cut off about 2,000 feet of runway. The city claims that the “Western Parcel” is not subject to the instrument of transfer agreement, thus it believes that it can simply lop off the Western Parcel and turn the airport into one with a runway too short for jets. Am I the only one who sees a slight discrepancy here? If the city believes that it is bound by the instrument of transfer, then it is agreeing that the instrument is valid, right? So then doesn’t that mean the city would have to keep the airport open in perpetuity? If so, why not keep it the way it is, to preserve its role in the national airspace system and keep bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars per year in economic benefits?
  4. Crack down on noise violators. Apparently the city has been cutting pilots some slack with regards to the noise ordinance. And for some reason, the city seems to think that fractional-share and charter operations are not getting enough noise-enforcement attention. Interesting. 
  5. Transition aircraft hangar uses from lease agreements to permits.” The city thinks it should control what happens on its land and doesn’t care for annoying FAA rules about how airport buildings should be used for airport purposes. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the biggest events at Santa Monica Airport are art fairs, although pro-airport events such as the regular “Put Your Kid In a Plane” day, run by the unofficial Santa Monica Airport supporter website, do a terrific job of helping the community appreciate the airport. In any case, the city wants to get out from under any lease commitments so it can end any aviation uses “as soon as legally permitted.” 
  6. Here’s a big one: the city wants to kick out the airport’s remaining two FBOs. Atlantic Aviation is the current business jet FBO, and American Flyers operates the avgas service. While the airport is still an airport, the city figures that it can just run a municipal FBO. “The two private FBO providers will be eliminated when City staff are ready to assume the duties,” the resolution stated.
  7. Eliminating leaded fuel. This is challenging because there is as yet no viable unleaded alternative for high-compression piston engines. Swift Fuels does offer a 94UL unleaded aviation gasoline, but this fuel is not designed for high-performance piston airplanes. To the city’s credit, it did identify a path for recommending the sale of unleaded fuel, but that would rest on the assumption that there is still an airport in Santa Monica.
  8. The final item on the resolution is enhanced security, which is especially hard for me to understand. Santa Monica Airport has a full-time police presence. I haven’t heard of any recent security issues at the airport, so the police must be doing a good job. Why is more security needed? 

I’m going to attend the city council meeting tonight, but I don’t expect to hear any new arguments. The City of Santa Monica is bound and determined to close its airport. That goal is not going to change. It appears that the only way to stop the city will be for the FAA to step in and assert the government’s right to take over the airport if the city doesn’t abide by the instrument of transfer agreement and its requirement that the airport stay open in perpetuity. Will this happen? Stay tuned.