NBAA Challenges Agreement Over Santa Monica Airport

SANTA MONICA—The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and five other stakeholders filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, August 16, challenging the legality of a “consent decree” between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the city of Santa Monica over Santa Monica Airport (SMO), according to reports.

The agreement, which was established on January 28, permits the city to shorten SMO’s runway from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet this year and close the municipal airport in 2028. In their brief, the NBAA and other stakeholders claimed the FAA disregarded numerous legal requirements and failed to consider the consequences of the decree on local businesses and operators, as well as the effect the closure would have on SMO’s role as a reliever airport for the congested Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The groups called for the agreement to be vacated.

“The agreement, whether reasonable or unreasonable, circumvented statutory and regulatory protections that Congress, and the FAA itself, long ago emplaced to ensure that the national interest in aviation and airports could not be disregarded in favor of a parochial agenda,” the brief said.

The groups alleged that in signing the agreement, the FAA failed to comply with the statutory requirements for a study under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA); disregarded the requirement to show that releasing SMO from its obligations would benefit aviation; neglected to document requirements rooted in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); and failed to provide the mandatory opportunity for public notice and comment, among other requirements.

“By allowing ‘local control’ driven by a vocal minority, with complete disregard for system-wide impacts, the loss of this critical reliever airport shifts the burden of accommodating air traffic to other area airports and has a major negative impact on area residents, businesses, general aviation and the flying public,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.

The aviation industry previously attempted to stop the decree. On May 4, the D.C. Circuit deferred the FAA’s motion to dismiss the NBAA petition and referred the case to a merits panel to review the legality of the agreement. The court also denied NBAA’s motion for a stay against the FAA and an injunction against the city to prevent efforts to shorten the airport’s runway.

For decades, the FAA agreed with the NBAA and other aviation industry stakeholders, calling SMO a vital resource that should remain accessible. The aviation administration opposed the city’s efforts to limit operations and close the airport. According to the brief, the FAA’s January agreement with SMO was “highly unusual.” The NBAA and other stakeholders ask the court whether the FAA possessed the authority to discard established policy and release the city from its past obligations.

Other parties to Wednesday’s filing include the Santa Monica Airport Association; airport-based businesses Bill’s Air Center and Kim Davidson Aviation; and two operators, Redgate Partners and Wonderful Citrus.

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