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Aviation Groups Challenge Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal  

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 15, 2017 -- The recently approved deal between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the City of Santa Monica to close the local airport at the end of 2028 has many critics on both sides of the airport debate.

And now some of those critics are taking their complaints to court.

A group led by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Santa Monica Airport Association filed a petition this week requesting the federal appellate court in Washington D.C. review the agreement.

The three-page petition contains mostly technical legal language, but a statement released by the NBAA is in plain English and accuses the FAA of giving into “a vocal minority of Santa Monica residents” to create a situation “that would severely restrict aviation access throughout Southern California and across the U.S.”

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said, “NBAA remains committed to aggressively supporting unrestricted business aviation access to SMO through this petition and other available channels.”

The City has not officially responded to this latest action by aviation interests to keep Santa Monica Airport (SMO) open. But Mayor Ted Winterer has been quoted in the press saying it was a “desperate move.”

The Santa Monica Airport Association has not commented on the petition specifically, but has used heavy language in the weeks since the agreement was signed to state its opposition.

On the front page of the association’s website is a statement requesting donations so it can protect “Santa Monica Airport under death threat by backroom deal between [the] FAA and [the] City.”

The plea states, “One of America’s crown jewels is being pried out of its setting by a heedless bureaucracy -- this must be stopped.”

The association argues this conflict goes beyond just Santa Monica, and that the closure of SMO would lead to airport closures throughout the country.

“Don’t let greedy politicians and backroom government deals sell out our nation’s airports,” the association says. “Please help us prevent SMO [from] becoming the next domino in a cascade of destruction that began with Meigs Field.”

Meigs Field was a small airport in Chicago that closed in 2003 after years of legal battles among governments and activists similar to those involving SMO.

The agreement between the City of Santa Monica and the FAA was announced late last month on a Saturday -- surprising many political observers who thought years of fighting were ahead before any conclusion would be reached.

The council vote for approval was 4-3 (“City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028,” January 28, 2017).

A federal judge approved the agreement several days later (“Federal Judge Approves Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal,” February 3, 2017).

In addition to the closure of SMO on December 31, 2028, the agreement calls for almost immediate work to reduce the size of the runway from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet

Reaction to the agreement has been mixed, with even many SMO foes opposing it because it keeps the airport open for many years.


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