U.S. Appeals Court Hears Arguments Over SMO's Fate

 - March 14, 2016, 10:52 AM

A three-judge U.S. Appeals Court panel on March 11 heard arguments in the city of Santa Monica’s fight to control the long-term outcome of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) in California and is expected to rule on the case later this year. The city, which has long wanted to close the airport, reasserted its belief that it should have ultimate authority over the airport, while the FAA backed a lower court’s ruling in February 2014 to dismiss the city’s case.

U.S. District Court judge John Walter had dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city against the U.S. government over control of the airport, saying the 12-year statute of limitations had long expired for the city’s complaints.

The FAA has asserted that a post-World War II “instrument of transfer” gives the agency the authority to take over SMO should the city attempt to close it. The city, however, argues that the instrument of transfer, which transferred the airport used by the government during the war back to the city, “could not possibly allow the United States to take title to, or assert ownership of, the airport property… because United States never owned the land.” The city also had cited a number of constitutional claims, which the lower court ruled were not applicable.

As the case was being heard, NBAA and AOPA reasserted their support for the government’s case, agreeing that the 12-year statute of limitations had expired on the city’s complaint. "In their appeal, Santa Monica officials reasserted their earlier claim that the city never gave up its authority over airport property in the lease agreement with the federal government, despite historical documents showing they were aware of the federal position not just 12 years, but seven decades ago," said Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure.

The lawsuit is part of a multi-pronged fight over the fate of the airport. Multiple Part 16 complaints also have been filed, the most recent of which involve short-term leases that the city is implementing on the airport.