National flight training chain American Flyers will close its flight school at California’s Santa Monica Municipal Airport on April 15. The decision will end the flight school’s 50-year presence on the airport that is now scheduled to close in 2028 under a controversial agreement between the city and the FAA.
“It’s certainly a bittersweet decision that the board had to make,” American Flyers President Jill Cole told AOPA in a phone interview. “The city has done many things over the last three years to drive people away from the airport. We don’t experience that anywhere else.”
The city of Santa Monica has long pursued a bid to close the airport and redevelop its 227-acre parcel, despite the facility being obligated to remain open under agreements associated with the airport’s receipt of federal Airport Improvement Program grants.
In 2015, American Flyers was one of numerous tenants the city confronted with new and adverse lease conditions.
Then came eviction notices last September. They were contested, drawing an investigation and a strong rebuke from the FAA, but the damage was done.
“That’s when we saw a really drastic decline,” Cole said. “People don’t want train at an airport when they don’t know what the longevity of that airport is going to be.”
The surprise agreement that took effect Feb. 1 between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica allows the city to close the airport at the end of 2028. However, AOPA is working with airport supporters in the community to change the makeup of the city council to keep the historic airport, with its importance to the region’s transportation infrastructure and emergency response capabilities, open well into the future. The airport has 173 businesses providing 1,500 jobs and contributing $250 million to the local economy.
“The last straw was the agreement between the city and the FAA, which was a surprise to many people in the aviation community,” Cole said, adding that her company was concerned about a provision for special designations of some businesses under which “the city only needs to give them six months to come in and take over their property.”
Cole said American Flyers will relocate several aircraft to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the company opened a base on Nov. 1, and where “they genuinely care about the general aviation community.”
Addressing the status of the self-serve fuel facility American Flyers maintains in Santa Monica, Cole said the company will “do the best we can to support from afar” by making sure that the fuel operations “get transitioned appropriately.”