Santa Monica Appeals FAA's Ruling To Keep Airport Open

 - February 1, 2016, 10:14 AM
Despite high landing fees and and an unwelcoming city, Santa Monica Airport remains a popular destination for business jets and light aircraft. Photo: Matt Thurber

The city of Santa Monica, Calif., appealed the FAA’s December determination in a 2014 Part 16 complaint that essentially “requires the city to keep the historic airport open at least through 2023.” NBAA, along with Krueger Aviation, Harrison Ford, Justice Aviation, Kim Davidson Aviation, Aero Film, Youri Bujko, James Ross, Wonderful Citrus and AOPA sent a letter to the FAA’s Office of the Chief Counsel in response to the city’s appeal. “Santa Monica now has requested that the FAA reevaluate and reverse that finding,” according to NBAA.

The appeal raises four specific issues: whether the city agreed to extend the expiration date of its grant assurance obligations when it accepted an increase in funds in 2003 for a 1994 grant agreement; whether the complainants were affected by the possibility that the city might violate grant assurances; whether the FAA’s determination was outside its jurisdiction, “given the complainants’ failure to allege the violation of any specific statute or grant assurance" as required by Part 16; and whether complainants made the required efforts to try to resolve the complaint, which is a necessary part of the Part 16 process.

In its appeal brief, the city wrote, “In 1941, the city leased the airport to the United States to aid in the war effort. Together with the city, the federal government expanded and reconfigured the airport. In 1948, with the war over, the federal government officially surrendered its leasehold interest to the city.

“The city has continued to operate the airport since that date. It has, however, been unable to do so without serious adverse consequences for residents of the densely populated surrounding neighborhood, who are subject to the airport’s noise, pollution and safety hazards. The city has undertaken a number of efforts to alleviate these effects, including imposing noise limits, curfews and banning certain types of aircraft.”

In accepting federal grant money on June 29, 1994, the city explained that a provision in the grant assurances limited the term of acceptance “not to exceed twenty years from the date of the acceptance of a grant offer of federal funds for the project.”

NBAA pointed out that “the FAA agreed with NBAA that the 2003 modification of the grant terms, including Santa Monica’s receipt of $240,600 in federal Airport Improvement Program funds on August 27 of that year, requires the city to continue operating SMO at least through 2023.”

“Santa Monica officials have essentially professed ignorance of what the city agreed to when it accepted additional federal funds in 2003 and asserted that the FAA’s reasoning was incorrect,” explained NBAA COO Steve Brown. “That first position is irrelevant to the argument at hand, and we fully support the FAA’s position that the 2003 decision was a new contract that restarted the clock on the city’s commitments. Unfortunately, the city has continued to try to avoid its obligation to the FAA and the aviation community, rather than recognizing the importance of general aviation and working to renegotiate agreements with airport tenants.”