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Court refuses to hear Santa Monica caseCourt refuses to hear Santa Monica case

'Backroom deal' remains in place'Backroom deal' remains in place

Citing “jurisdictional grounds,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to review the 2017 secretly negotiated backroom deal between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica that allowed the city to immediately shorten the runway and will allow the city to close the airport at the end of 2028.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Photo by Chris Rose.

According to the court, the settlement agreement between the city and the FAA was not a final FAA order over which the court had jurisdiction, so it cannot review the arguments that the FAA’s decision to agree to the settlement was a violation of federal law.

According to those who oppose the agreement, the unprecedented 2017 deal failed to engage the public and stakeholders such as airport users and tenants, and it didn’t comply with the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 or the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. It also violated the law that allowed the federal government to give the airport land to the city decades ago, and it ran contrary to a number of deed restrictions and grant agreement obligations. In addition, the FAA offered no explanation for relinquishing its perpetual right to require continued operation of the airport or for absolving the city of other obligations identified in the agreement.

Joining the case as an amicus party (“friend of the court”), AOPA participated in the litigation to protect the public’s right to challenge the city should it not comply with the few remaining obligations that survived the settlement agreement, including the requirement that the city continue operating the airport ahead of the potential 2028 closure and keep it accessible to the public under reasonable conditions.

“The court’s refusal to review a case so significant as Santa Monica is disappointing. The FAA exceeded its authority in making this backroom deal and the public has a right to challenge airports that disregard their legal obligations,” said AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead. “AOPA expects the agency to fairly consider issues relating to the operation of the airport going forward to ensure that the Santa Monica Airport fulfills its role as a critical component in the national transportation infrastructure for as long as it is an airport.”

As part of the negotiation between the city and the FAA to reduce jet operations and appease neighbors, the city shortened the runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet last December.  The changes were made despite the fact that the majority of Santa Monica residents are neutral or positive toward the airport. In addition, the airport creates jobs and generates revenue for the city. Closing it would only lead to real estate development, additional ground traffic on already over-crowded highways, pollution, and a lower quality of life for residents.

“The Santa Monica Airport is and will continue to be an important part of the national air transportation system,” affirmed AOPA President Mark Baker. “Especially in the case of natural disasters, the field is an important asset that the city needs to protect. We will continue to fight for its survival, despite the shortsighted efforts of the current city council.”

AOPA Communications staff

Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, State Legislation

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