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AOPA, GAMA file briefs over Santa Monica settlement

In the midst of the ongoing litigation over Santa Monica, California’s embattled airport, AOPA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) filed separate amicus briefs, or friend-of-the-court briefs, over the settlement agreement between the FAA and the city.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Photo by Chris Rose.

In the brief, AOPA took issue with part of the settlement agreement, claiming it would not allow the public to file complaints with the FAA regarding issues at the airport that the agency would then be required to fairly and fully resolve according to a legal procedure set out in the FAA’s regulations known as Part 16.

Because the airport has received federal funds and assistance from the Airport Improvement Program and the Surplus Property Act, the city is obligated to operate it in a way that ensures access and serves the public interest. Under the current settlement terms, AOPA argues that pilots and the public are denied the “right to raise concerns through the legal process of Part 16.” Instead, the settlement agreement states that any breach of the city’s federal obligations would be a matter that the FAA would have to raise with a local judge, and there is no mechanism available to the public to force the FAA to do so.

In the brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, AOPA states that the public has a right to challenge airports that are disregarding their legal obligations and to make sure they uphold their responsibilities and commitments under federal law. The current settlement denies the public that right at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and AOPA argues that “the public has a right to seek enforcement of the assurances given and obligations incurred in exchange for such federal assistance” that cannot be negotiated away by the FAA.

AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead said, “This is about accountability and access.”

Though the city could potentially close the historic field in 2028 under the settlement agreement, the decades-long fight over Santa Monica Municipal Airport is far from over. “We will continue to fight to keep Santa Monica Municipal Airport open beyond 2028, and we will also ensure that the city operates the airport in a way that preserves access and the rights of pilots.”

GAMA also took issue with the settlement agreement and filed its own amicus brief. The group argues that by shortening the runway, the city is intentionally restricting access to certain aircraft, namely jet operators, which is a direct violation of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) of 1990.

The runway shortening is included in the settlement agreement but is seen by many as just another assault on the airport and its users. The 50-year-old flight school on the field, American Flyers, recently made the decision to vacate after the controversial settlement.

Additionally, some Santa Monica residents recently took issue with a jet that took off on July 4 outside of the curfew hours, despite being on a medical emergency mission.

AOPA Communications staff

AOPA Communications Staff are communicators who specialize in making aerospace, aviation and advocacy information relatable for all.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, Advocacy

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