Santa Monica jet ban overreaches, would flout FAA

June 28, 2010

The city of Santa Monica has no authority to ban certain jet traffic from Santa Monica Airport, AOPA told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia June 28.

Santa Monica city officials adopted an ordinance in March 2008 to ban Category C and D aircraft (such as Gulfstreams and some Citations and Challengers) from operating at the airport—a move that could pave the way for restrictions at and even closures of airports across the nation based on local complaints, without consideration of those airports’ role in the national air transportation system. AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) filed a friend of the court brief regarding the city’s appeal of an FAA decision that the city had no authority for the ban.

AOPA legal counsel Kathy Yodice and NBAA counsel Frank J. Costello wrote that “Santa Monica is seeking to set a precedent that could be emulated by other airports across the nation to restrict access to or even entirely shut down airports, in the service of parochial interests. … What Santa Monica ultimately asserts to this Court is that it (and, by extension, any other locality) has a unilateral right to impose discriminatory standards on the operation of aircraft that would have the practical effect of dismembering the air transportation elements of the system.  That should not and cannot be the law.”

The airport is close to the downtown Los Angeles business district and serves as an important general aviation reliever airport. As such, it is an important piece in the national air transportation system overseen by the FAA. The city is claiming that a ban on Category C and D jets is for safety, but the FAA is responsible for making those safety determinations, not the airport sponsor.

“To allow safety restrictions to be determined on a piecemeal basis would disrupt the uniform and exclusive Federal regulation of aviation safety that was intended by Congress and is necessary to ensure the safety and efficiency of the national aviation system,” the associations wrote.

The jet ban is one chapter in the airport’s decades-long history of controversy. The city made unsuccessful attempts to impose excessive landing fees in the 1970s and to close the airport in 1981, and since then it has taken a number of different approaches to restricting operations. The associations pointed out in their comments that the Category C and D ban, ostensibly for safety, is part of a pattern of behavior on the city’s part.

“Yet the City has proposed to close the airport to Category C and D aircraft, which comprise approximately 7% of its operations, based on alleged safety considerations that have no demonstrable basis in fact and is inconsistent with the findings of FAA, the agency that has both the exclusive authority and the substantial experience to make such determinations for air transportation,” the associations stated in the brief.