Battle for Santa Monica intensifies

June 5, 2008

The FAA has raised the stakes to a new high, saying it will involve the Department of Transportation in the ongoing contest over the future of California’s Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

The battle over the airport has been going on for years, but a recent move by the city to create new restrictions at the airport has the FAA taking more aggressive measures. The FAA has said that it will take the extraordinary step of having the Department of Transportation withhold all federal transportation funding—not just airport money—from the city if it continues to pursue the restrictions and intention to close the airport.

“This is only the second time in 17 years we’ve seen the FAA expand a funding moratorium beyond the airport itself, and it sends a powerful message that local governments cannot disregard their federal obligations,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president for local airport advocacy. “This is a very powerful response to the city’s unilateral actions, and we are pleased to see the FAA acting so decisively to protect our air transportation system and federal investments in general aviation airports.”

After reviewing the city’s arguments for restricting jet traffic at the airport, the FAA issued its director’s determination. The document notes that the city’s contention that it can close the airport in 2015 is not valid. Not only is the airport obligated to remain open through 2023 because of federal funding it has accepted in the past, but the airport also sits on federal surplus property, meaning it must remain an airport in perpetuity, regardless of whether or not it continues to accept federal funding.

Meanwhile, the city of Santa Monica has asked the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an April 28 restraining order stopping the city from enforcing its jet ban.

Learn more about the issues at Santa Monica with AOPA’s online issue brief.