Washington, DC, March 26, 2014 – A contentious debate over a historic airport’s future was renewed this week, as the Santa Monica, CA City Council voted 6 to 0 on March 25 to pursue further restrictions at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) – a move opposed by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) – following a city-led report on options intended to severely curtail the airport’s use.
Prepared by the city’s attorney and public works director, the report offered several options to restrict operations at SMO after a 30-year land-use agreement with the federal government expires on July 1, 2015.
Questioning the legality of several of the report’s assertions, and their basis in fact, NBAA Western Region Representative Stacy Howard said in testimony delivered at the meeting: “In whatever process that is established by the council to evaluate the options for the airport’s future, it is critical that the city rely upon hard facts, and not political spin.” As an initial matter, Howard disputed the city’s position that the airport could be closed in 2015, because other federal obligations will remain in effect. Her remarks were taken from a letter NBAA submitted to Santa Monica City Mayor Pam O’Connor shortly before the meeting.
Among the report's recommendations is closure of the so-called “Western Parcel” of SMO’s 227-acre expanse, which the city maintains is not subject to the Instrument of Transfer between Santa Monica and the federal government in 1948. That Instrument of Transfer provides that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can repossess SMO if the city ceases to operate it as an airport. Although the report couches the closure as a compromise in recognition of “growing awareness of the airport's history,” seizure of the parcel would also significantly shorten SMO's runway by close to half its current 4,970-foot length, essentially preventing operations by turbine business jets.
A federal judge recently halted a city effort to shutter the airport, declining last month to consider Santa Monica’s assertion that the city never relinquished ownership to the airport when it leased the property to the United States government ahead of World War II, and thus that the Instrument of Transfer’s reversion condition was ineffective. Nevertheless, city leaders vowed to press on in their attempts to close all or part of the historic airfield, asserting the community wants the field closed due to environmental, noise and safety considerations.
“We urge you and the council - as responsible representatives of the city's residents - not to take any steps that would be in conflict with federal grant requirements, undercut SMO's vital role in the national airspace system, or impose unnecessary burdens on the citizens of Santa Monica,” Howard concluded.
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’s position. According to the Santa Monica Airport Association, SMO generates close to $300 million in annual revenue for the city and surrounding region.
Following the March 25 meeting by the Santa Monica City Council, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said the Association would continue to oppose this and other moves that could in any way restrict access to SMO for business aviation.
“It is clear that, despite a significant, recent legal setback, the council has voted to renew its efforts to restrict services at an important general aviation airport,” Bolen said. “For decades, NBAA and others in the general aviation community have fought to preserve access to this airport, in the face of ongoing opposition by the city council. This is a battle we must and will continue to fight.”