FAA says Santa Monica Airport landing fees discriminate against bizjets

The FAA has called the City of Santa Monica on the carpet for applying landing fees to business jets utilizing the Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO).

The fees, which have been controversial since they went into effect in August 2003, apply only to aircraft with a maximum structural landing weight of more than 10,000 pounds. The fees, used to maintain airport pavement, are based on weight and the amount of damage an aircraft can do to the pavement during landing, explains Airport Manager Bob Trimborn.

Bombardier Aerospace and Dassault Falcon Jet joined with the National Business Aviation Association last year in filing a complaint with the FAA, arguing the fee schedule was “unreasonably discriminatory and unlawful.”

“We knew the business jet group filed a Part 16 complaint with the FAA last year because they felt the fees were unfair,” said Trimborn. “The FAA just got back to us with their findings a few days ago.”

The official FAA response is in the form of a 60-page report. According to the report, the fees amount to economic discrimination because they discriminate against one group of aviation users.

The FAA found that SMO’s fee schedule differed from those at most airfields. Instead of designating fee increases in consistent, per-thousand-pound weight increments, SMO’s fee schedule assigned widely ranging fees to aircraft of various weights. As a result, operators of large business aircraft bore a “disproportionately and inconsistently high” cost.

The FAA report finds that the SMO fee schedule violates federal law and is “fundamentally flawed in that it fails to provide a reasonable relationship between the revised landing fees and the costs of maintaining the pavement at SMO.”

With the present fee structure, SMO is ineligible for federal airport improvement funds. The city does have the option of appealing the FAA’s ruling.

Trimborn said airport and city officials are studying the report. They have up to 180 days to respond to the FAA’s findings.

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