Lawmaker Seeks FAA Explanation for SMO Settlement

 - March 16, 2017, 11:36 AM

Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Louisiana) is asking U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to explain why the FAA entered into a settlement agreement with the city of Santa Monica, allowing the city to close the airport in 2028 and shorten the runway in the meantime. The runway shortening, to 3,500 feet from the existing 4,973 feet, would effectively eliminate about 47 percent of jet traffic that currently flies into Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

In his letter, dated March 14, Abraham pointed out that “this agreement departs from the long-standing principle that the federal government will preserve airport infrastructure and hold airport sponsors accountable, especially when they have accepted federal money and committed to deed-based obligations to operate an airport in perpetuity.” The city had signed a transfer agreement after World War II in which it agreed to continue operating the airport in perpetuity. 

The agency’s congressionally authorized mission includes ensuring that airports remain safe and efficient while also protecting our entire aviation system,” Abraham wrote. “This agreement not only appears to take the opposite approach, but [also] to be inconsistent with agency and congressional requirements that changes to airport obligations be fully publicized and documented. I would appreciate a thorough explanation of the FAA’s apparent departure from this mission.”

SMO is a vital asset, Abraham explained, as a reliever for Los Angeles International Airport and a critical part of local and state emergency plans. “Further, this deal comes at a time when the president has made clear that the renewal of and investment in infrastructure is a top priority for the administration. Could you provide any analysis that the FAA has utilized or prepared regarding the consequences of its actions, such as negative impact on other airports, area residents, businesses, general aviation, the flying public, and the national aviation system?”

NBAA and five other aviation interests have petitioned the U.S. appeals court to review the legality of the SMO-FAA agreement and also requested a stay against the FAA and an injunction against the city to halt the city’s efforts to shorten the runway, until the appeals court can conduct its review, according to the NBAA.

“We thank Rep. Abraham for calling on the DOT and the FAA to explain the rationale behind this seeming departure from the agencies' own mandate to preserve and protect airports like SMO, as part of our nation's greater aviation infrastructure, and we eagerly await their response,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “NBAA also shares Rep. Abraham's concerns regarding the implications that this may have for the future of other general aviation airports across the nation.”