Bowing to City Pressure, FAA Agrees to Close Santa Monica Airport

The runway at the embattled Santa Monica Airport will be shortened within a year, and the airport will be closed permanently in 2028. Pia Bergqvist

The FAA has thrown in the towel in the fight for Santa Monica Airport, striking a compromise deal with local officials that will permit the city to shorten the runway from about 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet within a year and close the airport forever at the end of 2028.

The city is already laying plans to shorten the runway, a move that would prevent most large business jets from using the airport that is a favorite of Hollywood A-listers. Santa Monica must give the FAA 30 days’ notice before altering the runway, after which it can take over services from airport FBOs — though the city must continue selling leaded avgas, according to the FAA.

The deal was announced at a hastily arranged Saturday press conference that took airport backers by surprise. According to government officials, the deal had been in the works during the waning months of the Obama Administration, with both sides standing to lose a lot if they failed to prevail in court. The city faced having to keep the airport open in “perpetuity,” as decreed in a 1947 agreement with the federal government. The FAA, if it lost in court, would potentially be required to close Santa Monica Airport immediately and open itself up to legal challenges from other airports with similar agreements.

Concerned that a negative court ruling could set a legal precedent leading to more airport closures in the future, the FAA brokered the deal to keep the airport open for 12 years, but bowed to city pressure to shorten the runway.

According to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, “Mutual cooperation between the FAA and the city enabled us to reach this innovative solution, which resolves longstanding legal and regulatory disputes. This is a fair resolution for all concerned because it strikes an appropriate balance between the public's interest in making local decisions about land-use practices and its interests in safe and efficient aviation services.”

The FAA briefed incoming officials with the Trump Administration, which had no objections about the agency going ahead with the deal, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Aviation groups, meanwhile, say they aren’t ready to give up.

“We will continue to fight for unfettered access to Santa Monica Airport,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “We are dismayed that consideration would be given to this kind of arrangement, in the process discriminating against the local entrepreneurs and businesses that rely on the airfield. We are disappointed that the government decided to settle this case, especially given that NBAA has long been committed to aggressively supporting business aviation access to SMO through every legislative and legal channel available. If there are further avenues available to us, we intend to explore them.”

Meanwhile, in a news article published by the weekly Santa Monica Observer, reporter David Ganezer wrote that the Trump White House was never made aware of the settlement and that the FAA deal was Huerta's final "slap in the face" to Republicans on his way out the door. The paper claimed that the Trump-controlled Department of Transportation will quickly move to reverse the deal.

The FAA’s response? The paper is flat wrong.

When Flying contacted Ganezer to ask him about the report he explained his story was "conjecture" but added that he stands by his assertions.

“We’ll know very soon if I was right,” he said.


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