FAA Caves in to Santa Monica

In what can only be described as a stunning reversal of their position, and a seeming betrayal of airport operators and proponents, the Federal Aviation Administration last week reached an agreement with Santa Monica allowing the city to close the airport on December 31, 2028.

In addition, the runway will be reduced to 3,500 feet from its present 4,973 feet, and the city will be permitted to establish its own FBO operations at the airport.

The shorter runway will substantially limit jet traffic, and almost immediately, JetSuite X annnounced the cancellation of flights. The Irvine-based virtual carrier had planned service between Carlsbad and San Jose with a stop in SMO, as well as flights to Las Vegas.

The deal has angered and disappointed both sides in the dispute: SMO operators and aviation industry professionals as well as residents who were hoping the airport would close sooner rather than later.

One practical result of the deal is that SMO-based GA pilots now have assurance the airport will remain open for twelve years. This would seem sufficient time that the deal could be reversed, public opinion can be swayed, or the political landscape could evolve in favor of keeping SMO open.

AOPA President Mark Baker reiterated that their goal is still the same. “We’re not going to stop fighting for Santa Monica. This gives us some certainty that it’s not going to close tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Now we have time to change minds and make sure this airport continues to operate as it should,” said Baker. “The devil is in the details. We are working to learn more about the fine points of the settlement, but our main goal – to keep this airport permanently open and available to all general aviation users – remains unchanged,” he continued.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stated, “Mutual cooperation between the FAA and the city enabled us to reach this innovative solution, which resolves longstanding legal and regulatory disputes.”

A recent ruling in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s granting an FAA motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Santa Monica to close the airport. After almost two years of negotiations, the unfavorable ruling on the appeal probably spurred the FAA to open further discussions with the city.

We are almost certain this is not the end of the story, so continue to follow it here.

 

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Contributing Author & Technical Support
Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

Sources:
1. FAA, Santa Monica Reach Deal to Keep Airport Open Until End of 2028. Alyssa J. Miller. AOPA Pilot, January 28, 2017. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/january/28/faa-santa-monica-reach-deal-to-keep-airport-open-until-end-of-2028

2. Huerta Explains Santa Monica Deal. Alyssa J. Miller. AOPA website, February 2, 2017. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/february/02/huerta-explains-santa-monica-deal

3. FAA Agrees to Close Santa Monica, JetSuiteX Cancels Flights. Ch-aviation.com website: http://www.ch-aviation.com/portal/news/53010-faa-agrees-to-close-santa-monica-jetsuitex-cancels-flights

4. Santa Monica Airport Will Close in 2028 and Be Replaced By a Park, Officials Say. Dan Weikel and Dakota Smith. Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-santa-monica-airport-20170128-story.html