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Commercial airport group files brief in Santa Monica disputeCommercial airport group files brief in Santa Monica dispute

An outside party with no clear ties to general aviation lobbed a legal argument at Santa Monica Municipal Airport users Dec. 28, the latest development in an ongoing battle that pits the city of Santa Monica against the FAA, airport tenants, advocates including AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association, and users of the GA facility.
Santa Monica Municipal Airport is an important general aviation reliever facility in the Los Angeles Basin. Photo by Chris Rose.

The city has been fighting for years to shut down an airport that delivers $275 million in yearly economic output, supports approximately 1,500 local jobs, and plays an important role in the air transportation system.

Nelson Hernandez, the city's senior advisor on airport affairs, told city, federal, and local anti-airport groups in a recent email that a "friend of the court" brief had been filed by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA). Hernandez interpreted that filing as support for the city's position in a federal case in which the city is challenging the latest FAA decision and determination that Santa Monica is obligated to operate the local airport until at least 2023.

The brief Hernandez referred to states, “ACI-NA understands that this case arises from an ongoing dispute between the FAA and certain airport users and the City of Santa Monica” and goes on to clarify that “ACI-NA takes no position on that dispute.”

ACI-NA wrote that it was concerned that the FAA was re-interpreting the terms of a grant agreement and was therefore worried about what that might mean to its members in future cases. The brief explained that “its members have a particular interest in this case because of the important role that FAA grant agreements play in the regulation of airports.”

The Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group is best known for distributing annual airport traffic reports at major commercial hubs including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and New York. The council represents the interests of its members who own and operate commercial airports in the United States, though not smaller facilities. According to ACI-NA’s website, its role is to represent "local, regional, and state governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports.” Its mission statement is to “advocate policies and provide services that strengthen the ability of commercial airports to serve their passengers, customers, and communities” including Los Angeles International Airport, just eight miles from Santa Monica Municipal.

Hernandez, who has a long history as a bureaucrat and lobbyist and is not listed in the FAA airmen database, portrayed the brief as “very well presented and shows the AIP recipient community supports the City’s position, not the FAA.”

However, the facts and circumstances of Santa Monica’s grant history fully support and justify the FAA’s decision, according to AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead.

“The FAA has clearly said that Santa Monica Airport must adhere to grant obligations through 2023 and the FAA’s decision in this regard is reasonable and particular to Santa Monica’s circumstances in receiving the taxpayers’ money to improve its airport and the FAA’s understandable protection of that federal investment,” said Mead. “This latest lobbying is all part of a larger effort to force the airport to close by any means necessary. ACI’s purported concerns are unfounded and, if anything, merely speculative,” he added. “ACI fails to understand that if Santa Monica Municipal Airport is allowed to close, there will be an adverse impact on one of its largest members, Los Angeles International Airport, with a ripple effect on other airports in the L.A. Basin.”

Mead said California’s ninth circuit court of appeals is “bound to affirm the FAA’s decision and to deny Santa Monica’s challenge to the FAA’s well-reasoned analysis.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, FAA Funding

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