Court Filings Traded in Battle over Santa Monica Airport

In the last installment  (Feb 28th)  we described how the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and others at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) had filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, asking the court to review the agreement reached in a secret session between the FAA and the City of Santa Monica.

Joining NBAA in the petition were the longstanding airport advocate Santa Monica Airport Association; Bill’s Air Center and Kim Davidson Aviation, two airport-based businesses; and two frequent operators at SMO, Redgate Partners and Wonderful Citrus.

Subsequent to the filing of the petition, the FAA filed a motion to dismiss the petition. Its explanation was that the agreement between it and the City is not a “final order subject to review.” The full text of the FAA’s response can be read by following the link in Source #1 below.

Not surprisingly, on March 6 the NBAA and the stakeholder group turned around and filed another motion with the appeals court. This time they requested a stay of the FAA’s motion to dismiss as well as an injunction against the City to prevent it from proceeding with demolition of the runway. Recall that one of the provisions of the agreement is that the City has permission to shorten the runway from 4, 973 feet to 3,500 feet.

The latest filing by aviation stakeholders argues that the FAA did not follow its own established procedures when it issued the settlement order, including no consideration of adverse effects on airport tenants and businesses, as well as the National Airspace System.

“In reaching its agreement with the city, FAA disregarded well-established statutory and regulatory prerequisites to the release of an airport sponsor from federal obligations,” reads the filing. “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, and thus the settlement agreement is invalid – as would be any actions taken in reliance upon it.”

NBAA chief operating officer Steve Brown stated,  ”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.”

On March 15, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) gave notice that it intended to file an amicus brief with the court to assert its position in support of a process through which airport users would be able to enforce the agreement in the event the City fails to live up to its obligations. AOPA also seeks a ruling affirming the public’s legal interest in “maintaining the safe and efficient functioning” of all public-use airports.

Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer has said in response to the petition for review, “We believe the NBAA’s objections are without merit and are moving ahead with our Consent Decree commitments.”

However, we concur with NBAA, that restricting turbine aircraft would jeopardize existing airport businesses and drive them and other operators from the airport. In addition, numerous non-aviation businesses in the Santa Monica area have flight operations based at SMO. These businesses provide employment for thousands of people in the immediate area, and curtailing their business-related travel to and from SMO would have a significant adverse impact on them as well as Santa Monica’s economy.

 

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

Sources:
1. FAA Motion to Dismiss. Filed February 24, 2017, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, Case #17-054. http://aireform.com/wp-content/uploads/KSMO.20170224..-Motion-to-Dismiss-against-the-NBAA-Petition-for-Review-USCADCCfiled-by-FAA-32p.pdf

2. NBAA-Led Motion Counters FAA Challenge to SMO Settlement Review. Dan Hubbard. NBAA Press Release, March 6, 2017. https://www.nbaa.org/news/pr/2017/20170306-021.php