Washington, DC, Nov. 1, 2013 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today pledged to oppose the most recent action taken by city of Santa Monica officials regarding management and use of Santa Monica Airport (SMO).
NBAA’s comments came in the wake of a lawsuit, filed on Oct. 31 by the city of Santa Monica against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which seeks to terminate certain of the city’s federal obligations with regard to the airport.
The city’s complaint centers around an Instrument of Transfer provided from the federal government to Santa Monica after World War II, which requires the city to operate the airport “in perpetuity,” with no end date, or the property must be returned to the government.
The lawsuit contends that because the airport was only leased to the federal government, it lacked authority to impose such a condition when SMO was returned to Santa Monica after the war. The city also asserts that even if the condition was nominally justified based on that lease, the obligation nevertheless is unconstitutional, because it amounts to the seizure of property without compensation and forces the local government to operate the airport without providing resources.
The case, filed by the Santa Monica city attorney at the direction of the Santa Monica City Council, will be heard in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The federal government has 60 days to respond to the complaint.
The legal action marks the latest turn in a decades-long battle between the city and the FAA over control of SMO, often involving attempts to restrict aviation traffic into the airport, or to close it altogether.
For example, earlier this year, the city council voted unanimously for a dramatic increase in landing fees; NBAA opposed the increase, calling it unreasonable and unlawful. Further, NBAA maintained that the airport was operating with a balanced budget, and the fee increase would lead to a budget surplus, from which revenues might have been used to fund non-aviation activities in the city.
In 2008, the city attempted to enact a ban on operations by Category C and D aircraft at the airport. NBAA and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit saying airport officials lacked authority for keeping those aircraft from using the airport. The FAA determined the ban “unjustly and unreasonably” discriminated against the aircraft, and that doing so would violate grant assurances or commitments made by the city when it accepted federal funds for the airport. In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided in favor of the FAA’s position.
Over the years, the city has also attempted to curtail certain aircraft traffic by enforcing strict curfew times, shortening runways and attempting to force flight schools off the airport.
“For decades, NBAA has been deeply involved in the battle to keep Santa Monica Airport accessible to business aviation,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “The Association has always supported the FAA's position – that the city has certain obligations with regard to the airport – and we are optimistic that position will be upheld. Nevertheless, we are reviewing the specifics of the city’s claim, and determining how NBAA can best ensure that access to SMO will be preserved.”
Bolen also noted that the Los Angeles basin is home to many airports, but not many that meet the needs of business aviation. Further, the airport’s direct and indirect impact on the local economy should not be underestimated, he said.