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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.