Court to hear AOPA on Santa Monica jet ban case

November 30, 2009

Approaching Santa Monica Airport from the east Daniel Baker

AOPA was granted permission Nov. 29 to participate as a friend of the court in an appeal by the city of Santa Monica, Calif., of an FAA decision that the city could not ban certain jet traffic at Santa Monica Airport.

City officials adopted an ordinance in March 2008 to ban Category C and D jets (such as Gulfstreams and some Citations and Challengers) from operating at the airport. When the FAA ruled that Santa Monica had no authority to ban jet operations, the city appealed the decision. AOPA requested permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to participate in the appeal as a friend of the court because the ruling could have far-reaching implications for airports nationwide. The association supports the FAA ruling that the city has no authority to ban jets at the airport.

“AOPA will bring a national perspective to this most critical issue,” said AOPA Vice President of Local Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn. “The outcome of this case could affect every publicly funded airport in the United States.”

If the court were to allow the city to implement restrictions at the publicly funded Santa Monica Airport—an action that is within the exclusive province of the FAA—the case would set a precedent that could lead other airport sponsors to follow suit. AOPA and the FAA have opposed the ban, and as a friend of the court, AOPA will be able to help the court understand the national impact of the issue.

Officials seeking the ban argued that it was necessary for airport safety. However, the city has rebuffed many suggestions from the FAA to enhance safety areas around the airport, including the FAA’s offer to install an engineered material arresting system that would accommodate more than 90 percent of the Category C and D aircraft utilizing the airport. 

The FAA has so far prevented the ban from being enforced. The agency issued a cease and desist order to the city on April 24, the day the ordinance was to go into effect. Later, the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order. Now, Santa Monica is appealing the FAA’s July 8 decision that the city had no authority to ban jet operations and that doing so would violate the grant assurances the city agreed to when accepting federal Airport Improvement Program funding for the airport.

As a friend of the court, AOPA can explain the federal airport grant process, grant assurances, and their impact on the operation of airports, as well as the safety and efficiency concerns being disputed in the appeal. The association’s primary concern in the case is ensuring that a dangerous precedent isn’t set that would allow local governments to ban operations at public airports.