The FAA has once again advised the city of Santa Monica that it must keep Santa Monica Municipal Airport open and operating on “fair and reasonable terms” and “without unjust discrimination” at least until 2023. In a strongly worded letter dated Aug. 30, the FAA said it is “prepared to pursue all legal remedies at its disposal” if the city council acts to undermine the FAA’s decision regarding the future of the airport.
The FAA issued its final decision regarding the city’s obligation to keep the airport open on Aug. 15. That decision came after the city appealed a previous determination in a Part 16 complaint brought by AOPA, the National Business Aviation Association, and others.
In its most recent letter, the FAA said that, in light of the agency’s decision, it was concerned about certain actions taken by the city, including the city council’s stated intention to close the airport as soon as it is legally permitted with a goal of June 30, 2018, five years before its federal grant obligations expire. The FAA also expressed concerns about a new airport leasing policy along with the decision to issue leases to several nonaeronautical users alongside a practice of not issuing leases to aeronautical users; a recommendation to take action to eliminate leaded fuel, which is used by most piston-engine aircraft, from the airport; and a plan for the city to become the only fixed-base operator on the field.
“The FAA is prepared to pursue all legal remedies at its disposal if the City Council takes concrete actions to restrict leases or operations without complying with applicable federal law or otherwise seeks to undermine the Final Agency Decision dated August 15, 2016,” wrote Kevin C. Willis, the FAA’s director of airport compliance and management analysis.
The city has filed an appeal to the FAA’s final decision regarding the airport in federal court. But while that case is pending, the FAA notes, the city is obligated to abide by its federal grant obligations. The letter also asks the city to submit its current leasing policy along with its plan to become the sole FBO on the field to the FAA for review.
The city of Santa Monica has been trying to close the airport for years in efforts that have, at times, bordered on the ridiculous.
In addition to bringing numerous legal cases and spending millions of taxpayer dollars on litigation that has consistently failed, the city in September 2015 publicly identified closing the airport as one of its top three priorities, ahead of homelessness and infrastructure.
Advocates of closing the airport have proposed redeveloping the land. But the airport, which delivers some $250 million in annual economic impact, hosts 175 businesses, and is responsible for 1,500 jobs in Santa Monica, is one of the few open spaces remaining in the city, which is troubled by chronic traffic and congestion. The airport also serves as a vital reliever for Los Angeles International Airport and would play a crucial role in enabling relief to reach the area in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or wildfire. And the airport serves numerous charitable organizations that use general aviation to transport patients for specialized medical care, serve veterans, and deliver rescued animals to new homes.
“When you look at all the airport does for the people of Santa Monica, the city’s insistence that it must go is absurd,” said Baker. “Residents value the airport, and more high-rise office buildings and apartments simply won’t deliver the types of services available through the airport. It’s time the city stopped wasting money on trying to close the airport and took a good hard look at how to get the most from this irreplaceable asset.”