The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) joined with five other groups and businesses to file a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging the legality of a “settlement agreement” between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica to close the Santa Monica Municipal Airport (KSMO).
The highly unusual agreement, which was concluded last January with no public input and with disregard for numerous mandatory statutory requirements, would restrict and ultimately prohibit aviation access to KSMO, a vital aviation gateway to Southern California, according to NBAA officials.
“As this filing makes perfectly clear, NBAA will defend our nation’s critical aviation infrastructure and protect general aviation’s access to airports and airspace,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “By allowing ‘local control’ driven by a vocal minority, with complete disregard for system-wide impacts, the loss of this critical reliever airport shifts the burden of accommodating air traffic to other area airports and has a major negative impact on area residents, businesses, general aviation and the flying public.”
Bolen noted the importance of SMO’s FAA designation as a reliever airport for congested Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and as an economic generator for the city of Santa Monica, making it a critical piece of infrastructure for area residents.SMO also supports law enforcement and air medical flights, and would play a key role in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster, NBAA officials noted.
On May 4, 2017, the D.C. Circuit deferred FAA’s motion to dismiss and referred the case to a merits panel for a full review of the legality of the agency’s agreement with the city of Santa Monica.
At the same time, the court denied a motion by NBAA and the other stakeholders for a stay against the FAA, and an injunction against the city, to put on hold any efforts to shorten SMO’s runway.
In the petition, NBAA argues that when the FAA entered into its agreement with the city:
- The agency disregarded the statutory requirements for a study under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA);
- Ignored the requirement to show that releasing SMO from its obligations would benefit aviation;
- Neglected to document requirements rooted in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
- Failed to provide the mandatory opportunity for public notice and comment;
- Did not follow other legal requirements.
Because of these deficiencies, NBAA contends “the agreement must be vacated.”
For decades, FAA agreed with NBAA and others in the aviation industry that SMO must remain open and accessible, and opposed the city’s recurring efforts to restrict operations and close the airport.
Prior to the settlement agreement, SMO was obligated to remain open until 2023 based on grant agreements, and in perpetuity based on the surplus property deed. However, in January 2017, after secret negotiations with the city, the FAA agreed to release the city from obligations that it had previously defended, NBAA officials claim.
Under the terms of the agreement, Santa Monica is only required to keep the historic airfield open through Dec. 31, 2028. In the meantime, the city has been authorized by the FAA to reduce the length of SMO’s sole runway to 3,500 feet.
Other parties to today’s filing include the Santa Monica Airport Association, a user group and longstanding proponent for maintaining the airport; two airport-based businesses, Bill’s Air Center and Kim Davidson Aviation; and Redgate Partners, LLC and Wonderful Citrus, LLC, two operators that frequently utilize SMO.