Washington, DC, Feb. 10, 2014 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) today joined in filing a brief of amicus curiae supporting a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) motion to dismiss the latest effort to close the historic airfield.
NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen called the battle over SMO a "bellwether moment" in preserving other vital general aviation (GA) airfields across the country.
"Santa Monica's latest attempt to close its community airport carries very serious ramifications for the continued viability of our nation's general aviation airports," he added. "It is imperative that the FAA maintain jurisdiction over SMO, and other essential airports that our Members rely upon for convenient access to communities across the United States."
"Generally speaking, access to Santa Monica Municipal Airport is important to almost any NBAA member with business in Southern California...SMO is one of the primary general aviation gateways, and similarly any AOPA member potentially could fly in the Southern California area and make use of SMO," the associations noted in the briefing, filed Feb. 10.
Last October, Santa Monica officials filed a lawsuit maintaining the city never relinquished control over airport land when it leased the property to the United States government for use as a military airfield and manufacturing base ahead of World War II. That condition, the city asserted, voids any subsequent agreements with the FAA requiring the city to maintain the land as a civilian airport.
The city has repeatedly attempted over the past 50 years to restrict operations at SMO, with each prior case determined in favor of the federal government. Should the court rule in favor of the city’s position here, Santa Monica could be allowed to reclaim control over the land on which SMO lies, and ultimately shutter the airport.
"[T]he ramifications of any decision in this case extend beyond the instant dispute between the City and the FAA," noted the amicus brief. "[I]f the City of Santa Monica is permitted to avoid obligations it accepted knowingly, plainly, and legally, such precedent could provide airport owners and sponsors nationwide with a basis to challenge similar surplus property transfers as well as other agreements in place between the Federal government and airports."
The FAA countered last month that any questions over which entity holds the title to SMO must be settled under terms of the Quiet Title Act, which requires such lawsuits to be filed within 12 years following learning of the federal government’s interest in the property. That first occurred, the agency asserted, when both parties agreed in August 1948 to return control of the airfield to the city.
Bolen noted that, "NBAA's team of Washington and regional staff have been continuously in contact with our Members, the city of Santa Monica and other civic groups locally to ensure that the public, as well as government officials, hear the business aviation community's view of how beneficial the airport is both to the city and the nation. We will continue to support all efforts to keep SMO open and accessible for those who rely on it."