A U.S. District Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Sunday to halt the city of Santa Monica, California, from shortening the runway at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet. The city had planned to begin work on the runway shortening project on October 9, marking another step in the city’s effort to close the airport by the end of 2028 under a settlement agreement struck the FAA earlier this year.
But the city faced a number of legal objections from pilots and other interests in the airport community, as well as from national organizations such as NBAA. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the petition in one such case, from airport neighbor Kate Scott and James Babinski, a pilot who frequents the airport. Scott and Babinski argued that the city failed to comply with environmental review and public hearing requirements before moving forward with the terms of the settlement agreement.
The court determined that Scott and Babinski would “likely prevail at trial on the merits of their claim.” The court also agreed that the plaintiffs met the test for “irreparable harm” necessitating a TRO based on concerns that the runway shortening would require aircraft to fly lower over neighborhoods, increasing noise. Also, the court noted the concern that flight at the lower altitude over densely populated areas “increases the risk to pilots.”
The court gave the city until October 13 to submit a filing that would show cause why the TRO should not remain in place.
NBAA welcomed the decision. "This latest development highlights the important role of local and regional advocacy in preserving access to vital community airports," said NBAA Western regional representative Stacy Howard. "NBAA is pleased to see the court respond quickly to the aviation community's concerns with the city's shortsighted plan to drastically reduce the usability of this irreplaceable Southern California airfield."
The association is involved in separate litigation before the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, which argues the FAA did not follow statutory requirements in reaching the settlement agreement with the city.