Santa Monica Airport (SMO) advocates received another setback in their decades-long effort to secure the future of the California airport when the FAA concluded that the city of Santa Monica could use airport revenue to remove runway pavement and then hydro-seed that area.
The October 21 FAA conclusion came in response to a Part 13 informal complaint that NBAA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and General Aviation Manufacturers Association filed against the city for destroying “excess runway” after SMO had shortened the lone landing strip from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet.
A 2017 agreement with the FAA has cleared the way for the airport to shorten the runway and ultimately close the airport in 2028. SMO initially curbed the length through signs and markings but this past summer launched a project to remove about 750 feet of pavement, in part to guard against aircraft landing on more than the 3,500 allowable feet. The runway-shortening project was driven by a desire to cut business jet traffic.
In its decision, the FAA said, “We conclude that airport revenue may be used to fund the pavement removal, pavement pulverization, and hydro-seeding project, including the work within the Runway Safety Area, at SMO. The removal of the subject pavements, pavement pulverization and reuse, and the soil stabilization at SMO appears justified as an airport operating cost.”
The FAA added that it must reach an agreement with the city on a financial plan for future collection and use of airport revenue and that revenue must be used for the maintenance and safe operation of the airport “while avoiding the collection and use of airport revenue for community uses, non-aviation uses, and reuse of airport property should the city decide to close the airport in 2028.”
NBAA expressed disappointment with the FAA decision. “This is not airport construction, but purely airport destruction. Taxpayer dollars were used to build this runway and the aeronautical users should not be paying for the demolition that has zero benefit to them,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure. “The FAA’s decision allows Santa Monica to continue its avowed agenda to make SMO as inhospitable as possible to aviation operators.”
Gertsen acknowledged that FAA called for an agreement for the future collection and use of all airport revenue and stressed the FAA “must hold the city to its obligation to use airport revenue only for purposes that benefit the airport and to foster transparency going forward on issues that directly impact the airport users.”
A safety expert found that preserving the pavement on both ends of the runway best ensured safety in cases of a runway overrun, the association said, noting a number of mishaps have occurred in the runway safety area since the runway was shortened.
“The city did a poor job with directional signs, markings, and closure barricades, creating confusion for pilots operating on the airport once the geometry was changed,” Gertsen said, adding that simple improvements in signage and markings could have alleviated those concerns rather than a multi-million-dollar pavement removal project.
“[The] FAA also chose not to engage on the additional safety concern of more wildlife, primarily birds, being attracted to the airport as the result of hydroseeding,” he added.
While this is another setback, NBAA still has a case before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that challenges the legality of the 2017 settlement agreement between the FAA and the city.