NBAA recently welcomed a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling that will require the city of Santa Monica, CA to keep the historic Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) open at least through 2023.
Last February, court officials ruled in favor of the FAA over an October 2013 lawsuit by city officials maintaining that Santa Monica never relinquished control over airport land when it leased the property to the United States government for use as a military airfield and manufacturing base ahead of World War II. That condition, the city asserted, voided any subsequent agreements with the FAA requiring the city to maintain the land as a civilian airport.
The FAA countered that any questions over which entity holds the title to SMO must be settled under terms of the Quiet Title Act, which requires such lawsuits to be filed within 12 years following learning of the federal government’s interest in the property. That first occurred, the agency asserted then, when both parties agreed in August 1948 to return control of the airfield to the city.
NBAA was among the parties that filed a “Part 16” complaint with the FAA, challenging the city of Santa Monica’s claim that its federal grant-based obligations expired on June 29, 2014. The complainants, which also included the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), asked the FAA to make a formal determination that the $240,600 in federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds received on Aug. 27, 2003 extended the 20-year grant-based obligation to continue to operate SMO through 2023.
“America’s airports are part of a federal transportation system, and this determination highlights FAA’s recognition of the overall importance of grant commitments and demonstrates to other municipalities that recently have attempted to impose illegal restrictions, such as the town of East Hampton, NY, the significance of the commitment that airport owners and operators make when accepting federal funds,” said NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown.
“We hope that the city will end its short-sighted efforts to restrict operations at SMO, especially now that they have been declared impermissible,” Brown added. “These measures result in disputes and litigations that are a waste of public dollars.”
SMO is able to accommodate a wide range of business and personal aircraft. The airport serves as a base to numerous aircraft, businesses, flight schools, provides jobs and serves as an important economic contributor to the community. Additionally, SMO is an important reliever airport for the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and other airports in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to the 20-year grant commitments, the 1948 deed that transferred control of SMO from the federal government to the city, after substantial improvements made by the federal government during World War II, requires the airport to be maintained for public use in perpetuity. The city unsuccessfully sought to challenge that deed in federal district court, and is currently pursuing an appeal.
In both that case and any appeal that the city may pursue of the Part 16 decision, NBAA will continue the fight to keep the airport open and free from illegal restrictions.