NBAA Pledges to Fight on After Court’s SMO Ruling

A federal circuit court dismissed the association's case on procedural grounds, setting up a showdown in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to protect Santa Monica Airport.

Santa Monica Airport
Santa Monica Airport is set to close forever in 2028 under an agreement between the city and the FAA.Pia Bergqvist

The National Business Aviation Association said it will continue to fight to protect Santa Monica Airport after a federal court denied on procedural grounds the association's petition to overturn an agreement between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica that cleared the way for the city to eventually close the airport.

The association noted the ruling does not address the merits of its legal filing, and that “the work to keep the historic airport open continues.”

“We're obviously disappointed by this decision, but it's important to note the court did not make a determination as to the merits of our arguments against the validity of the original settlement agreement,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “This ruling was purely a matter of procedure, and in no way does it establish a precedent by which the FAA may enter into similar agreements affecting the fates of other vital general aviation airports.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit denied on procedural grounds a petition filed by NBAA and others that sought to overturn a settlement agreement between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica, California, that allows the city to block aviation operations at Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) and grants it the option to close the airport after Dec. 31, 2028.

NBAA asked the court to vacate the January 2017 settlement agreement on the grounds the agency “exceeded its authority” and defied requirements established by Congress as well as the FAA's own responsibility to support the country's aviation interests.

However, in the ruling, published on June 12, the court sided with the FAA’s contention the settlement agreement “does not constitute final agency action reviewable” by the DC court, and that a subsequent consent decree remains binding to enforce the city’s actions against SMO. That decree was issued by the Central District of California, and according to the court ruling it is only reviewable by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

NBAA is arguing that the FAA offered no explanation for the settlement agreement and failed to engage airport users and tenants beforehand and that the petition violates the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 along with several other statutes.

Bolen said NBAA continues to battle for SMO, including with the submittal of a pending FAA administrative complaint alleging violations of the city's grant-based obligations to the airport. “NBAA remains a determined advocate on behalf of this important Southern California airport, so that it may endure today, tomorrow and beyond 2028,” he said.

Other petitioners to the court included the Santa Monica Airport Association; Bill's Air Center; Kim Davidson Aviation; Redgate Partners, LLC; and Wonderful Citrus, LLC.