FAA Finds Santa Monica in Violation Regarding SMO

FAA concludes that the city’s financial operations with regard to Santa Monica Airport violate federal policies.

Santa Monica SMO airport
The city of Santa Monica has violated several federal rules with respect to its airport, SMO, shown in an earlier configuration here.Wikimedia

After an investigation process, the FAA has responded to a complaint filed by AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) and several airport tenants from February 5, 2016. The complainants claimed that the city has violated leasing policies, implemented an unjust landing fee structure and diverted airport revenues from the airport.

In investigating these claims, Kevin Willis, director of the Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis of the FAA, concluded that the city is in non-compliance with federal grant assurances with respect to loans that the city claims it made to the airport. Willis stated in his report that the methodology and rates for the airport’s landing fees may not be in compliance with grant assurance rules. Also, Willis found that a corrective action plan regarding lease rates for Santa Monica College for its use of airport property, which the city implemented after airport tenants complained that SMC’s rates were below fair market value, must be supplemented.

During the past decade, aviation-use airport tenants have been forced out little by little. The city made operations by these businesses near impossible by only allowing month-to-month leases. As a result, SMO’s largest flight schools, Justice Aviation and American Flyers, shuttered their doors a couple of years ago, and the airport’s highly popular restaurant, the Typhoon, is gone, which was a major draw for $100 hamburger fliers from near and far (though instead of the standard greasy airport fare, the Typhoon offered an eclectic Asian-fusion menu).

After decades of fighting to close the airport, the city of Santa Monica entered an agreement with the FAA in early 2017, which allowed the city to initially shorten the runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet (a process that has already been completed) and permanently close SMO on December 31, 2028. As part of that agreement, the city must abide by certain lease agreements. Leases must be no less than three years in duration. According to Willis, the city is now in compliance with the lease policies from the 2017 Settlement Agreement.

The city must now respond with a plan for corrective action for its violations within 30 days of the response.