Fires Back at FAA’s “Legal Assault”
By Jorge Casuso
April 8 -- Calling the federal government’s challenge
to an ordinance banning larger, faster jets at the Santa Monica
Airport a “legal assault” on public safety, the City
on Monday filed declarations defending its actions, as it revs up
for what promises to be a lengthy legal battle.
The declarations were accompanied by a 40-page legal brief and hundreds of
pages of exhibits opposing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA)
filing last month of an order challenging the City’s plan to shorten the
runway and add safety areas at either end that abide by current federal standards.
“The FAA has launched a headlong assault on the Santa Monica City Council's
adoption of an ordinance that conforms operations at the City's municipally-owned
airport to federal standards and to the FAA's airport reference code for the
Santa Monica Airport,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie wrote.
City officials contend that the larger faster jets that routinely use the 63-year-old
airport jeopardize the safety of residents who live as close as 300 feet from
the airstrip’s single runway.
“The Council acted to fulfill the City's responsibility as airport proprietor
to ensure public
safety and protect public resources by minimizing legal risks,” Moutrie
“The Council's action was reasonable, necessary and lawful. The FAA's
actions are not. They exceed the agency's jurisdiction. They violate the Santa
Monica Airport Agreement between the FAA and the City.”
In her 40-page declaration, Moutrie argues that airport operations are governed
by the 1984 Settlement Agreement with the FAA, which “only requires the
city to accommodate slower aircraft at the airport.”
The City also argues that the FAA is biased, having prejudged the matter when
FAA Airports Administrator Kirk Shaffer called the ordinance “flatly illegal”
in a letter to City Manger Lamont Ewell.
In addition, the FAA, City officials contend, is violating the Tenth Amendment
prohibition against the federal government commandeering local resources and
is placing the aviation industry’s interests above public safety.
“In protecting the traveling convenience of a few at the expense of the
safety of many, the FAA violates the Congressional mandate requiring the FAA
to make safety its first priority, ahead of the economic interests of the aviation
industry,” City officials wrote in a statement announcing the filing.
The City points to a declaration by James Hall, a safety expert who was chairman
of the National Transportation and Safety Board, concerning the need for safety
areas at each end of the runway to help stop Category C and D aircraft.
“In my opinion, in the absence of meeting the federal standards for RSAs
(runway safety areas) at Santa Monica Airport, Category C and D aircraft should
not be permitted to operate due to the serious risk of injuries and to occupants
of the aircraft and members of the community resulting from aircraft operating
on the margins of safety with no provision for the possibility of mechanical
failure or pilot error,” Hall wrote.
In their filing last month, federal officials had argued that the ordinance
– which goes into effect April 25 -- violates the 1984 Settlement Agreement,
which includes conditions making the airport available “to all types,
kinds, and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical
activities offering services to the public at the airport.
“Thus, any actions taken by the airport sponsor that conflict with these
obligations could be found to be in violation of its Federal obligations,”
the FAA’s order states.
The council adopted the ordinance on March 25 after having negotiated with
the FAA since the Airport Commission first approved safety measures in 2002.
Before adopting the ordinance, the council rejected a final proposal by the
FAA, which called for installing a concrete arresting system that slows down
aircraft travelling at 70 knots. City officials noted that the system would
be only capable of stopping two of the seven large aircraft that frequent the
The day after the Council adopted the runway safety ordinance, the FAA filed
its order, setting the stage for the litigation expected to follow
the adoption of the ordinance later this month.