Part 16 Complaint against SMO seeks Finding that City must meet its Grant Obligations; Reverter is a more appropriate Remedy

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It is fair to assume that there is no more litigated airport in the United States than the above↑ pictured Santa Monica. The battles over this facility essential to the aviation system in the Los Angeles basin have been so noteworthy that the continuing saga has been the subject of six posts here over the last year. Now, a complaint has been filed under the FAA’s process for determining violations of a number of statutory requirements (14 CFR §16.1). The resolution of that complaint is not likely to stop the illegal actions of the City.

The below↓ press release from the National Business Aviation Association relates that a Part 16 complaint has been filed[i] over the City of Santa Monica’s blatant efforts to close this runway through a series of attacks on the municipality’s own aviation infrastructure. While it is owned by Santa Monica, that ownership is controlled by the FAA’s Grant Assurances. Richard K. Simon, on behalf of the 10 complainants, lists the relevant Grant signed by the City, and sets forth the facts on which it is asserted that the land must remain an airport until August 2023. He also relates in detail the nine separate attempts by the City to close or restrict SMO.

The last paragraph is a request that the FAA find that the City of Santa Monica be required to keep SMO open until August, 2023. That relief is factually justified, but not likely to result in the proper management of the airport.

Even after such a determination, it is highly likely that the City fathers will continue to operate within the penumbra of its power and continue its surreptitious effort to kill the airports. Little things, like little cuts, can be as effective as lethal stokes. For example, the City management could chose not to contract for the repainting of the runway markings. An inspector might then find that the runway was unsafe and that flights must be terminated. More subtlety, but equally injurious would be a conscious decision to either delay or permanently refuse to hire a replacement of an airport manager. Without such leadership lights might not be replaced, fences not repaired and a whole host of deleterious/dangerous actions/inactions be permitted.

With such virtually invisible assaults on the airport, the time it would take to attempt to expand a Part 16 determination would not result in timely remedies. The airport would be poisoned from within and would likely die.

The obligation of the Grant includes a duty to operate the airport in compliance with all of the assurances. The Part 16 determination needs to include a finding that the managers have failed on a consistent basis to comply with the contractual terms. That course of conduct renders the City in violation of the Grant and disqualifies that municipality to be a sponsor. There can be no civil penalties or damages which can rectify that failure.

The remedy, which the US government under both the Military Surplus and FAA Grant terms, is to seek reverter of the property, to compel that the title returns to the US Government. The FAA has well served as the sponsor of three airports—Reagan National, Washington Dulles and Atlantic City International Airports; adding SMO would not be outside of their competence. The FAA would be sure to assure that the airport was properly and safely managed. The City of Santa Monica has failed miserably to meet its obligations and now is time to bring it to a halt.

[i] Other Complainants include Krueger Aviation, Inc., Harrison Ford, Justice Aviation, Kim Davidson Aviation, Inc., Aero Film, Youri Bujko, James Ross, Paramount Citrus LLC and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

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