As work continues on a runway-shortening project at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) in California, NBAA is continuing its legal battle, filing a final brief in federal court on its lawsuit over the long-term fate of the airport. Filed November 13 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the final brief by NBAA and a handful of local petitioners reiterates their call for the court to vacate a settlement agreement reached earlier this year between the city of Santa Monica and the FAA.
That agreement paves the way for the city to close the airport in 2028 and immediately shorten the runway. Last month, the city began the two-month project of shortening the runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet after a temporary restraining order was lifted in a separate lawsuit.
The brief argues that the FAA failed to comply with federal noise, environmental and Surplus Property Act mandates in signing the settlement agreement. That agreement marked a dramatic turnaround for the agency, which for years had rebuffed attempts by the city to curb access and close the airport.
“[The] agreement surrenders valuable federal rights—the requirement that Santa Monica operate SMO, accessible to the public, through 2023 based on grant obligations, and in perpetuity based on deed obligations,” the brief states. “The agreement waived those rights despite statutory mandates specifically intended to prevent such a dead-of-night maneuver. “
NBAA expects oral arguments will be heard early next year in the case and a decision could be handed down later in the year.
Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure, underscored the importance of challenging an agreement “that contradicts decades of established FAA policy that SMO be kept open and accessible, and instead effectively surrenders to the city’s recurring efforts to restrict operations and to potentially enable local control of federal infrastructure.”
Despite ongoing action to repaint the runway to reduce its length, Gertsen said, “NBAA is working to ensure this short-sighted action is a temporary one and we maintain that the city will be obligated to restore the runway should our D.C. Circuit arguments prevail.”
The additional petitioners on the filing are the Santa Monica Airport Association, Bill’s Air Center, Kim Davidson Aviation, Redgate Partners and Wonderful Citrus. In addition, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association have filed amicus briefs.