Frederick, MD – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today jointly filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in support of a Federal Aviation Administration motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit over the future of Santa Monica, Calif., Municipal Airport.
In the brief, AOPA and NBAA point to the protections that the federal government puts in place when it transfers federal airport property to sponsors such as the City of Santa Monica, including the obligation to maintain the property as an airport until such time as the federal government determines that it may no longer serve the purpose for which it was conveyed. These protections are intended to recognize and preserve the importance of the airport to the national air transportation system so that the public is assured a safe and efficient national transportation infrastructure. The closure of the Santa Monica Airport could create safety and congestion problems for air traffic in its geographic area, with ripple effects nationwide.
Santa Monica hosts more than 102,000 flight operations each year -- an average of 280 per day. Those flights could not readily be absorbed by other area airports.
The associations filed the amicus brief after the FAA asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the city over use of the airport property. While the City of Santa Monica and the FAA have presented the technical arguments over the terms of an agreement signed decades ago, AOPA and NBAA intend to present the court with the bigger picture of what is at stake if the City is allowed to breach its agreement and leave the future of the Santa Monica Airport to the City’s whim.
The amicus brief states that allowing the City of Santa Monica to close the airport could have unintended consequences for more than 200 other airports that operate under surplus property transfer agreements similar to the one between the federal government and the City of Santa Monica.
Those airports include Van Nuys Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport, among others. If other cities were to follow Santa Monica’s lead to up-end obligations that it knowingly accepted and attempt to gain unilateral control to restrict or close those airports, simply because it no longer likes having the airport, the national air transportation system could be devastated, the associations argued.
The AOPA-NBAA brief also stressed that the airport is an important asset to Santa Monica’s economy, hosting some 175 businesses that provide 1,500 jobs and generating an estimated $275 million in annual economic output.
“This airport is not only critically important to the regional and national air transportation system, it also creates jobs and economic activity in Santa Monica, and it should not be closed because the City is no longer satisfied with the agreements it made with the federal government,” said Ken Mead, general counsel for AOPA. “We think the FAA has presented a compelling argument for dismissing the lawsuit and we hope the judge in the case will agree.”
AOPA and NBAA have engaged their members and the pilot and aircraft operator community in defense of Santa Monica Airport, which has been in use since 1919 and for many years was the site of Douglas Aircraft Co. Indeed, Douglas built many of the homes next to the airport for its employees.
The City of Santa Monica leased the airport to the federal government during World War II, but regained control after the war through a conveyance that assured the federal government that the city would operate the airport in perpetuity.
More than 65 years have passed since the city reached its agreement with the federal government, and the city has repeatedly acknowledged the government’s interest in maintaining the land as an airport over the intervening years.
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