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National Aviation Group Asks Court to Delay Reducing Santa Monica Airport Runway  

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 8, 2017 -- A national aviation group and others on Monday asked a federal court to temporarily halt shortening Santa Monica Airport’s runway pending an appeal of the City’s surprise pact with the federal government to close the airport in 12 years.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) joined with five other local plaintiffs to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order a stay against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and an injunction against the City “preventing any further actions to reduce the length of the runway."

The motion also asks not to allow the City “to curtail aviation operations at Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), while the court reviews an unprecedented settlement agreement between the FAA and the city.”

"By spearheading this action to restrict, and ultimately close, a significant and vital Southern California airport, the FAA failed to abide by its own mandate to defend national aviation infrastructure," said Steve Brown, NBAA's chief operating officer.

The NBAA filed a petition last month asking the appeals court to review the legality of the consent decree reached January 28 between the FAA and the City ("Aviation Groups Challenge Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal," February 15, 2017).

Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer said the City will not be diverted from its current course.

“We do not believe the NBAA motion has merit,” Winterer said.

“The City of Santa Monica will continue to follow through on our commitment to close Santa Monica Airport after December 31, 2028 and shorten the runway in the short term as outlined in the Consent Decree,” he said.

Santa Monica seemed to cap decades of battling to close SMO when the City announced the unexpected consent decree with the FAA to close SMO on the last day of 2028 ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

The consent decree also gives the City authority to take the interim action of shortening the airport’s sole runway from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet -- a distance too short for many jet operations.

At its February 28 meeting, the City Council approved a $879,741 contract with California-based AECOM/Aeroplex for initial design work for the shortened runway and formally voted to approve the consent decree ("Council to Begin Implementation of Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal," February 27, 2017).

The NBAA-led request for a stay argues that, in reaching the agreement with the City, the FAA “disregarded well-established statutory and regulatory prerequisites to the release of an airport sponsor from federal obligations.”

"Even a cursory review of the actions taken -- and not taken -- by FAA finds that the agency did not comply with requirements both basic and mandatory,” the filing said.

Thus, “the settlement agreement is invalid -- as would be any actions taken in reliance upon it."

Joining in the legal action is the Santa Monica Airport Association; two airport-based businesses, Bill's Air Center, Inc. and Kim Davidson Aviation, Inc., and two businesses that frequently use SMO, Redgate Partners, LLC and Wonderful Citrus, LLC.

The City envisions the 227-acre airport as a “Great Park,” a Westside version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or New York City’s Central Park.

Critics of the airport think it needs to be shuttered as soon as possible and fear the City has left residents vulnerable by agreeing to a close date so far away.

Santa Monica Airport -- the oldest operating airport in Los Angeles County -- dates back to 1917, when pilots landed WWI biplanes on its grassy landing strip.

Now the airport is surrounded by neighborhoods in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles with an estimated population of 130,000 people. Some homes are as close as 300 feet from the runway.

Complaints began to sharply rise when more jets started using SMO in recent decades. Neighbors say the jets caused more noise, pollution and increased chances of accidents.

In 2015, there were 85,000 aircraft operations at SMO, 22 percent of them involving jets -- a steep increase from past years. The airport today caters primarily to leisure pilots and chartered jets.

Proponents of the airport note that it is regarded as a relief value for busy Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The City owns the airport, but the FAA is in charge of operations for the nation’s airports.


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