Santa Monica Ballot may eliminate the City from owning and operating the Airport under FAA Grant Assurance

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The struggle between the Santa Monica Airport neighbors, on the one hand and the FAA supported by national aviation interests is heading towards a new chapter in a book which started in the 1970s.

The new segment of this epic crusade was declared at the ballot box on November 4 when the outcomes on Measure D (NO) and Measure LC (YES) both favored the local citizens seeking to close the General Aviation facility (SMO). As noted below, both AOPA and NBAA immediately responded to the announcements of the votes by declaring that they will fight any attempt to close this infrastructure so critical to air commerce in the LA Basin.

AOPA’s reaction:

“We are tremendously disappointed that the city council will be able to continue business as usual when it comes to attempts to close and redevelop the airport,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. “But that doesn’t mean SMO is closing or that we’re giving up on it. Despite yesterday’s vote, the city still needs to comply with federal requirements to keep the airport operational and AOPA will continue to work with airport advocates to defend and protect this valuable and historic field.”

NBAA’s response:

“While we are disappointed by yesterday’s results, airports in the United States are subject to federal laws and Santa Monica is no exception,” said Ed Bolen, NBAA president and CEO. “NBAA has worked for decades to retain this important asset in our federal airport network, and we will continue to fight to ensure that the airport lives up to its obligations, and that business aviation continues to have access to the facility.”

There already exists a formal Part 16 complaint which contends that under the FAA Grant Assurances SMO must remain open until 2023. The legal pleadings are well crafted and lay out a record which should result in a federal determination that the airport has another 9 years of assured operation.

The Measure LC ballot provided the City Council with a “freer hand in turning the airport into a park or other non-aviation use—pending litigation or resistance from the federal government”. The specific language would amend the City Charter as follows”

“Section 1. The following section shall be added to Article VI of the Santa Monica City Charter:

640. Regulation, Management and Closure of Santa Monica Airport and Future Use of Airport Land.

Subject only to limitations imposed by law, the City Council shall have full authority, without voter approval, to regulate use of the Santa Monica Airport, manage Airport leaseholds, condition leases, and permanently close all or part of the Airport to aviation use…..” [emphasis added]

Arguably this “authority” violates the FAA Grant Assurance NOW and would justify an amendment to the Part 16 Complaint and/or an immediate, direct action by the FAA seeking reverter of the title to SMO. The language of this new Section of the City Charter violates multiple provisions (e.g. good title, funding availability, preserving rights and powers, etc.) The total absence of any interest in operating SMO now is a basis for the US Government to sue for reverter immediately . Once the court reaches such a conclusion, the FAA (or perhaps a contractor for the FAA) could own and operate SMO as it has done the same functions for DCA, IAD and ACY.

It would be consistent with federal law to appoint an operator which intends to manage, not destroy SMO. Waiting for the City to come to its senses did not work with Meigs Field; action to protect this national asset is in order now.

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