FAA Rules that Santa Monica Must Keep Airport Open

 - August 16, 2016, 10:16 AM
Santa Monica Airport gained a reprieve and must stay open until at least Aug. 27, 2023. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

The FAA associate administrator for airports yesterday affirmed an earlier director’s determination that requires the city of Santa Monica, Calif., to keep its airport (SMO) open until 2023. In a final decision and order, the associate administrator responded to the city’s appeal of the Dec. 4, 2015 director’s determination, which found that the city was obligated by receipt of grant funds to keep the Santa Monica Airport open at least until Aug. 27, 2023. The city appealed that determination, and the FAA re-examined the record. “Based on this re-examination,” the final decision and order noted, “the FAA concludes that the director’s determination is supported by a preponderance of reliable, probative and substantial evidence, and is consistent with applicable law, precedent and FAA policy.”

This latest legal dispute centered on Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant funding that the city accepted on Aug. 27, 2003. This particular grant was an amendment of an earlier grant first issued in 1994. AIPobligations generally require maintaining the airport’s status quo for 20 years after receipt of funds. The city’s leaders, who have unequivocally stated that they intend to close SMO, hoped to shutter the airport last year because under an agreement reached in 1984, the city had agreed to “operate and maintain SMO without derogation of its use as a reliever airport until July 1, 2015.”

The legal move that led to the director’s determination, the appeal and yesterday’s affirmation started with a Part 16 complaint filed by NBAA and airport users such as actor and pilot Harrison Ford, Krueger Aviation, flight school Justice Aviation (which has since closed under a settlement agreement with the city), maintenance shop Kim Davidson Aviation, Aero Film, Wonderful Citrus, which operates business aircraft into SMO, and local aircraft owners. 

While the city of Santa Monica has kept its end of the agreement to continue operating the airport, it has begun chipping away at some property, recently removing 12 acres of ramp area, which it is converting into additional park space. There are currently 312 aircraft based at SMO, including 16 jets, 13 turboprops, 11 helicopters and 272 piston airplanes.

In 2013, the city raised landing fees and also imposed them on based tenants. The result has been a drop in piston airplane traffic, but jet traffic since then has climbed. Looking at June 2013 and June 2016 numbers, piston operations are down by about one-third, while jet operations climbed to 46 per day from 34. Overall operations are down, however, to 211 in June from 271 in June 2013.