FAA Moves Swiftly to Halt Santa Monica Airport Evictions

The agency issued a notice of investigation against the city’s plan to shut down the airport’s FBOs.

Santa Monica Airport
The FAA is investigating the city of Santa Monica over its handling of Santa Monica Airport.Pia Bergqvist

After months of relentless mistreatment toward airport tenants, including evictions of aviation-related businesses, the city of Santa Monica is under investigation by the FAA, which is seeking to ensure the city is complying with its obligations with regard to the operation of the Santa Monica Airport. An FAA notice was issued only days after the city issued eviction notices for the two FBOs located at the airport, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers.

In its notice of investigation issued to Santa Monica city manager Rick Cole and city attorney Marsha Moutrie, the FAA criticized the city for a series of actions that “may be causing, and appear intended to cause, impairment of the airport including but not limited to, a de facto closure of the airport in violation of applicable law.”

The city recently announced it would take over FBO services and would offer only unleaded fuels to piston airplanes and biofuels to turboprops and jets. The FAA noted in its letter that “not all aircraft are certified or otherwise capable of using unleaded or alternative fuels.” The city has also denied new or renewed leases to aeronautical businesses, but has allowed new non-aeronautical leases at SMO.

The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously in August in favor of closing the airport by 2018, an action that would violate the FAA’s recent decision that the city would have to keep the airport open at least until 2023.

Since the city recently issued 30-day notices to the SMO-based FBOs, the FAA is giving it 10 days to respond to its notice of investigation, which “strongly” recommends that the city withdraw the notices to vacate.