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Court rejects motion to stay Santa Monica airport closingCourt rejects motion to stay Santa Monica airport closing

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied the National Business Aviation Association’s motion to halt an agreement between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica, California, to close the city’s airport by 2028 while the settlement’s legality is reviewed.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport photo by Mike Fizer.

In its May 4 order, the court declined to rule on the FAA’s motion to dismiss the case, and instead referred the jurisdictional question to the judges who will decide whether the settlement agreement was reached in accordance with law.

In January, the FAA and the city of Santa Monica came to a surprise agreement on a plan to close the airport—an effort long opposed by aviation advocates—by the end of 2028, with the airport’s single runway to be shortened from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet in the interim.

In February, the National Business Aviation Association and five other petitioners filed a lawsuit challenging the agreement’s legality by arguing that the FAA failed to follow statutory requirements and established procedures when entering into the settlement agreement, “including consideration of its detrimental effects to operators and businesses at the airport, and to the National Airspace System.”

NBAA filed a motion in that lawsuit in March, requesting a stay against the FAA and an injunction against the city of Santa Monica to prevent the shortening of the runway during court review of the settlement agreement. On March 15, AOPA filed a notice of intent to participate in the case as a friend of the court.

AOPA’s action sought recognition by federal courts that any airport user would be able to enforce the city’s obligations under the agreement in the event that an airport host community failed to live up to its responsibilities and obligations under federal law. If Santa Monica were to violate any of the terms of the agreement with the FAA in the years ahead, airport users would have standing to seek enforcement of the agreement under the public’s well-established legal interest in the safe and efficient functioning of the entire transportation system.

AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead emphasized the importance of AOPA’s participation in the case to protect members’ rights to bring concerns at the airport to the FAA’s attention under the well-established Part 16 airport complaint process.

“The FAA should not be permitted to deprive the public of its right to have airport actions reviewed in a legal process,” he said.

In the more than 11 years remaining before the airport is scheduled to close, AOPA will continue to work to reverse the closure decision through education and persuasion, building recognition in the community of the benefits the airport provides.

On May 5, NBAA issued a statement on the denial of its injunction motion, vowing to continue pursuing every available remedy.

“This order, which recognizes our call to review the underlying case on the settlement agreement, makes clear that the court holds steadfast on the need for a thorough and fair hearing about this unprecedented situation,” said NBAA President Ed Bolen.

The city of Santa Monica also issued a statement, noting that “The denial of the injunction allows continued implementation of the terms outlined in the Consent Decree, including shortening the runway by 1,500 feet from 5,000 to 3,500 feet.”

"We are not surprised the NBAA and other aviation special interests will do almost anything to maintain the status quo at Santa Monica Airport. The Consent Decree may not be perfect, but it settled decades of legal disputes between the City of Santa Monica and the United States government. Everyone now knows that the airport can close forever after 2028,” said Mayor Ted Winterer.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, National Business Aviation Association

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