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Jet Ban Awaits Court Order

By Jorge Casuso

April 24 -- The City on Thursday temporarily lifted a ban on high-speed jets at Santa Monica Airport until a federal court rules on a temporary restraining order filed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

City officials had announced on Wednesday that they would not abide by an April 23 cease and desist order from the FAA and would begin enforcing the law -- which bans jets with approach speeds of between 139 and 191 mph -- at 12.01 a.m. Thursday.

But Santa Monica officials decided to await a decision by a federal court scheduled to hear the case on Monday. The City contends that the restrictions are necessary to protect neighboring residents from runaway jets; the FAA counters that the law is unnecessary.

Although the City lacks the authority to stop aircraft from landing at its 63-year-old municipal airport, it can issue citations that carry $1,000 fines, and it informed pilots in an April 21 letter that it would do just that.

“The City Council has decided that the City should move forward with the law to protect the safety of the residents,” Kate Vernez, a senior analyst to the City Manager, told The Lookout Wednesday.

The City’s initial decision to enforce the law came after the FAA called on Airport Manager Bob Trimborn to withdraw his letter to the pilots.

“Your enforcement of the ordinance,” the FAA wrote, “can only be interpreted as an attempt to divest the FAA of its jurisdiction over its administrative process, to which the City, as a federally obligated airport, must adhere.”

The City refused to withdraw the letter and told the FAA it intended to begin enforcing the new law, which bars Category C and D aircraft – including the Gulfstream IV and the Cessna Citation X that are popular with executives.

In the letter, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie reiterated the City’s contention that the FAA was placing “the convenience of a small percentage of airport users above public safety.”

The ordinance, Moutrie wrote, “was adopted to fulfill the most basic of governmental duties – the duty to keep the public safe. Your assertion that this effort is undertaken to divest your agency of jurisdiction reveals stunning self-absorption or institutional paranoia.”

The day before the ordinance was set to go into effect, the FAA issued an interim cease and desist order “requiring the City to hold the Ordinance in abeyance in order to preserve the status quo.”

“The FAA recognizes that it is an unusual step to issue a cease and desist order that is effective immediately,” wrote Kelvin L. Solco, the FAA’s acting director of airport safety and standards.

“However, no local government has previously ever taken the unprecedented action the City now contemplates,” Solco wrote. “Allowing the Ordinance to take effect at this juncture in the administrative proceeding cannot be countenanced.”

The exchange of letters is the latest battle in a war launched when the council adopted the ordinance on March 25, after having negotiated with the FAA since the Airport Commission first approved safety measures in 2002 that would curb jet traffic.

In adopting the ordinance, the council gave final clearance to a plan that shortens the runway and adds safety areas at either end that abide by current federal standards.

Before the vote, council members vociferously rejected the FAA’s latest proposal to install a concrete arresting system that slows down aircraft travelling at 70 knots, noting that it would be only capable of stopping two of the seven large aircraft that frequent the airport.

It took the FAA less than 24 hours to rev up for a lawsuit. On March 26, FAA officials filed an order challenging the City’s contention that the larger faster jets that routinely use the airport jeopardize the safety of residents who live near the airstrip’s single runway.

The City called the federal government’s challenge a “legal assault” on public safety and filed declarations defending its actions.

The ordinance came as City officials and residents who live near the airport increasingly worry that soaring jet traffic -- from 4,829 jet operations in 1994 to 18,575 last year -- is putting neighboring homes, as well as pilots, in danger.

The threatened litigation is not the first time the FAA would sue the City for restricting jet traffic. In 1979, the City banned some jet access to the airport, but litigation resulted in a 1984 settlement agreement governing airport operations until 2015.

 

“Your enforcement of the ordinance can only be interpreted as an attempt to divest the FAA of its jurisdiction." Kelvin L. Solco

 

"Your assertion that this effort is undertaken to divest your agency of jurisdiction reveals stunning self-absorption or institutional paranoia.” Marsha Moutrie

 

 

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