NBAA Cites FAA Disregard of Law in SMO Court Battle

 - August 16, 2017, 12:50 PM

Citing “FAA’s complete noncompliance” with the law, NBAA and five other stakeholders told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the January 28 agreement between the FAA and the City of Santa Monica on the fate of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) must be vacated.

The agreement, which NBAA noted marked a reversal for the agency, permits the city to immediately shorten the runway and to close SMO in 2028.

In a brief filed today in the court, the groups charge that in signing the settlement agreement, the FAA disregarded the statutory requirements for a study under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA); ignored the requirement to show that releasing SMO from its obligations would benefit aviation; neglected to document requirements rooted in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); failed to provide the mandatory opportunity for public notice and comment; and did not follow other legal requirements.

“The agreement, whether reasonable or unreasonable, circumvented statutory and regulatory protections that Congress, and the FAA itself, long ago emplaced to ensure that the national interest in aviation and airports could not be disregarded in favor of a parochial agenda,” the brief said.

The brief notes that more than 45 years ago, the FAA had called SMO a vital resource that it would preserve, quoting the agency as saying it “has no intention of consenting to the use of this property for other than airport purposes and will insist on the City of Santa Monica complying with its contractual obligations.”

The brief further outlines the group’s belief “that this position remains the correct one and that FAA erred in discarding decades of firmly established policy against the closure of viable airports to effect a settlement with the city. But the petition in this case does not depend on the wisdom or consistency of FAA’s decision. What occurred was wrong as a matter of law.”

NBAA called the agreement “highly unusual” and noted it was conducted with no input. “The loss of this critical reliever airport shifts the burden of accommodating air traffic to other area airports and has a major negative impact on area residents, businesses, general aviation and the flying public,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. He added the the agreement allows "‘local control’ driven by a vocal minority, with complete disregard for system-wide impacts." 

During the recent Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta defended the agreement, saying, “Decisions of land use and facilities under our Constitution are reserved for local governments…[the FAA’s] arrangement with them is effectively contractual in consideration of receiving grants.” The localities must agree to performance standards, he said, but “the reality is that it is a local decision.”

He added that the battle isn’t with the FAA, but with the community. “I think the settlement arrangement buys us a very long tail where the airport will be able to operate perhaps with a shorter runway,” he said. “Rather than litigating this thing and possibly losing and facing overnight closure, instead what we have bought is a certainty for a number of years to work on that challenge with the local community.”

Joining NBAA in the filing are the Santa Monica Airport Association, Bill's Air Center, Kim Davidson Aviation, Redgate Partners and Wonderful Citrus.

Santa Monica, meanwhile, is moving forward with shortening the runway from 4,973 to 3,500 feet.