Santa Monica Airport Takes Another Hit

City of Santa Monica sues FAA to take control over SMO property.

Halloween was particularly scary this year for airport advocates in Southern California. In a major blow against the Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), which for decades has been fighting a tough battle to stay in operation long term, the City of Santa Monica filed a lawsuit against the FAA on October 31 in an attempt to claim the rights to make its own decisions regarding the future use of the property on which the airport is currently located.

A press release issued by the City of Santa Monica said the city has enlisted a high profile international law firm called Morrison and Foerster, or MoFo for short. The suit asks the court to declare that the city “holds clear title” to the land and that claims by the FAA that the city must operate the airport indefinitely are false.

Members of the Santa Monica city council claim that its citizens want the use of the airport property to change. There has, however, never been a public vote to this effect. A referendum was held in 2001 at nearby Hawthorne Municipal Airport. Residents there voted 71 percent to 29 percent against a redevelopment plan of the property.

NBAA, which has been closely involved with the situation at SMO, issued a statement opposing the action taken by the city. NBAA’s president and CEO Ed Bolen noted that SMO is one of very few airports in the Los Angeles basin accessible to business aviation. “The Association has always supported the FAA’s position — that the city has certain obligations with regard to the airport — and we are optimistic that position will be upheld,” Bolen said. “Nevertheless, we are reviewing the specifics of the city’s claim, and determining how NBAA can best assure that access to SMO will be preserved.”

AOPA, which in its statement regarding the issue said it has spent hundreds of hours working to keep SMO open, called the lawsuit meritless. AOPA’s general counsel Ken Mead said “The airport must remain in operation under its agreement with the federal government. That may be politically unpopular for a few council members, but it happens to be the law.”

The city has in the past few years dealt blows against the airport users in all directions, so far unsuccessfully attempting to ban jets and to shut down the flight school operations at the field. Earlier this year, in an effort to reduce the number of operations at the airport, the Santa Monica City Council voted for a massive increase and restructuring of the landing fees at SMO, a fee structure that was implemented in August.

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