The mayor of Santa Monica, California, told the Los Angeles Times that the city remained “committed” to ousting both remaining fixed-base operators from Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and was “disappointed but not surprised” that the FAA issued a cease-and-desist order blocking eviction of Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers.
The city’s defiant tone came as no surprise to advocates and airport tenants, who have fought the eviction notices since they were delivered in September, weeks after the FAA made clear it considers the city obligated to operate the local airport until 2023, at least. Those evictions are part of a city strategy to starve the airport into submission, and free up 227 valuable acres for other purposes years sooner.
In the recent cease-and-desist order, the FAA took the city to task for its “hostility” to the sale of aviation fuel, and the city’s treatment of airport tenants.
“The city has failed to grant any aeronautical leases since 2015 and is alleged to have negotiated in bad faith while seeking onerous and unreasonable terms,” the agency stated in its order.
Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers challenged their eviction notices in a separate case, in which a Jan. 3 hearing is scheduled. An attorney representing American Flyers told the Los Angeles Times that his client appreciates the FAA’s latest action: "We are pleased that the FAA has recognized our client’s federally protected right to be at the airport," attorney R. Christopher Harshman told the newspaper.
AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead also welcomed the latest FAA action.
“The FAA has taken a strong stand against the city council’s repeated and continuing actions to blatantly violate its obligations,” Mead said. “It’s unconscionable the amount of time and taxpayer dollars the council has poured into this matter to simply please a vocal minority of Santa Monica residents. The airport serves the community in many ways, including several humanitarian efforts, and is a valuable asset, particularly should a natural disaster impact the region. The city council must have other more important things to do for its citizens than this.”
The FAA’s move to protect tenants subject to eviction proceedings is the latest in a string of developments that followed formal notice in September that the FAA is investigating the evictions, issued weeks after the agency released a final ruling on the grant obligations. The FAA reiterated to city officials in September that the city is obligated to provide “suitable areas or space on reasonable terms to those willing and qualified to offer aeronautical services to the public.”
The city government has meanwhile been more responsive to airport opponents, and stated its intention to become the sole provider of fuel, though only biofuel and unleaded aviation gas. The FAA called that decision “a clear contravention of law.”
The FAA noted that many aircraft cannot operate on fuels approved by the city, and the city has shown no desire to provide other aviation services such as flight training.
AOPA and NBAA have asked to participate in a federal court review of the FAA decision issued in August. In that case, the city has asked a federal judge to overrule the FAA final decision that the city’s federal grant obligations extend 20 years from the last time it accepted federal funds, until Aug. 27, 2023. There has been no ruling yet on the associations’ motion to intervene. The city’s brief in that case is due Dec. 16, with the FAA response to follow in January.