Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO)

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NBAA Continues Legal Efforts to Preserve Access to SMO

Nov. 13, 2017

NBAA has filed its final brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging the legality of the unprecedented settlement agreement reached earlier this year between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica, CA over the future of Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO.)

The Nov. 13 filing – the final one the association will file with the court on the matter – responds to the FAA’s and the city’s challenges to NBAA’s initial arguments about the agreement. In the filing, NBAA has reasserted its position that the agency failed to comply with numerous federal statutory requirements (including studies and justifications required by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act, the Surplus Property Act and the National Environmental Policy Act) in reaching the controversial January 2017 settlement, and it did not provide the required public comment period or establish a benefit to aviation.

Prior to the settlement agreement, the FAA had steadfastly maintained the city’s obligation to preserve SMO until 2023 based on commitments included in federal grant agreements and in perpetuity, which are in turn based on obligations included in a 1948 surplus property deed. The NBAA brief further asserts, “in a different setting,” the agency would not have disputed that any agreement dispensing with such obligations required court review.

“So why did FAA depart from SMO-specific as well as overall precedent by entering into the agreement and releasing the city of public obligations?” the brief continues. “The record provides no answers; it is a virtual nullity, offering no explanations for the agreement, much less for how FAA may avoid statutory mandates.”

Read the Nov. 13 Filing

Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure, said, “It is important that NBAA lead the industry’s challenge to an agreement that contradicts decades of established FAA policy that SMO be kept open and accessible, and instead effectively surrenders to the city’s recurring efforts to restrict operations and to potentially enable local control of federal infrastructure.”

Gertsen further noted that, despite this and other ongoing court actions against the settlement, city officials have moved swiftly to restrict access for most turbine aircraft by repainting SMO’s sole runway to reduce its available length.

“NBAA is working to ensure this short-sighted action is a temporary one,” he continued, “and we maintain that the city will be obligated to restore the runway should our DC Circuit arguments prevail.”

The case has also been supported by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association, which filed amicus briefs. Additional petitioners to the filing include the Santa Monica Airport Association; Bill’s Air Center; Kim Davidson Aviation; Redgate Partners, LLC; and Wonderful Citrus, LLC.

“While this brief is the last filing in this legal fight for SMO, we are just getting into the thick of the battle to preserve the airport,” said Gertsen. The court is expected to hear oral arguments early next year and make its ruling on the case before the end of 2018.

“The strong arguments presented in this brief dispel the perception that the battle for the airport is lost with the settlement agreement and the start of the runway shortening,” said Gertsen. “NBAA and our local partners will continue to stand up for SMO and other general aviation airports that are at the core of our nation’s air transportation system.”