Business and general aviation leaders faced another setback in their efforts to preserve Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissal of a case seeking to overturn an FAA agreement that paved the way for the closure of the airport after Dec. 31, 2028.
The FAA struck a settlement agreement with the city of Santa Monica in 2017 essentially freeing the city from any legal obligations that it must run the airport in perpetuity after 2028 and, in the meantime, enabling the city to shorten the runway to 3,500 feet.
NBAA joined local airport advocates in challenging the surprise agreement but was rebuffed on procedural grounds. The groups then in 2018 turned to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to continue its battle against the agreement, but that court also dismissed the case on jurisdictional and procedural grounds.
Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure, expressed disappointment with the ruling, saying it shields the FAA agreement from judicial review. “Despite not successfully overturning the settlement agreement, NBAA remains committed to supporting the Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) and engaging with city officials and community representatives to ensure a viable future for their local airport,” he said.
Pointing to the role the airport plays in the national air transportation system and for emergency relief efforts, Gertsen added, “It would be irresponsible governance for the Santa Monica city council to exercise the option to close the airport, which greatly benefits the majority of Santa Monica’s population, based on pressure from a small but vocal cluster.”
NBAA and SMAA are supporting a separate case before the California Supreme Court that could help shift the political balance in favor of airport supporters.
“City council members are currently elected at-large,” Gertsen said. “The issue now before the court would create a more diverse representation of the population, bringing new leaders to the council who reside in other geographic areas of the city and have different perspectives on the issues than the current city leadership.”
He added that the fight must continue to avoid a national precedent. “We will vigilantly continue to defend access to airports throughout our country,” he said. “The business aviation community must remain proactive in combating threats to our nation’s aviation infrastructure.”