AOPA leaders see Santa Monica challenges up close

January 22, 2014

AOPA leaders recently met with leaseholders, pilots, and business owners at embattled Santa Monica Municipal Airport to talk about the challenges facing the airport and new opportunities to earn the support of the neighboring community.

During a Jan. 18 visit the to the airport, AOPA President Mark Baker had the opportunity to tour the field, get an update on the issues from a user perspective, and discuss the way forward with a variety of airport stakeholders.

“The challenges this airport faces are significant, and it’s critical that the user community speak with one voice. We all share the same goal—keeping this important and historic airport open and operating so it can continue to be a valuable asset to the community,” Baker said.  

During separate meetings on Jan. 17, AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg talked with airport activists about how to educate the nonflying community about the value of the airport and its role in the regional and national transportation system. A study conducted in 2011 showed that the airport was home to 177 businesses, hosted 894 jobs, and produced $275 million in annual economic impact.

“There’s new energy around inviting the broader community to experience the airport and all it has to offer,” said Landsberg. “When people recognize all the things a local airport can do for them and their neighbors, they begin to take pride in it.”

Santa Monica has been embroiled in conflict over the airport’s future for more than two decades, and AOPA has invested thousands of man-hours in addressing a wide range of concerns ranging from noise to safety to pollution. The association also has supported the airport in various legal actions and hired independent consultants to look into public opinion about the airport.

The airport is currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by the city of Santa Monica over use of airport property. In the lawsuit, filed Oct. 31, 2013, the Santa Monica City Council asked the court to give the city clear title to airport property and challenged the current effectiveness and constitutionality of agreements that require the city to operate the airport in the future.

But the FAA argued that the city is disputing the terms of the land agreement decades too late, and the agency asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. According to the FAA, the city had 12 years under the Quiet Title Act to bring suit against the federal government once the city learned of the government’s interest in the property. But the city signed the property over to the federal government in 1948, more than 65 years ago and has repeatedly acknowledged the government’s interest in the land over the intervening years.

It is now up to a federal judge to decide whether to dismiss the city’s case or allow it to proceed.