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News, Santa Monica, Santa Monica Airport

AOPA Calls Lawsuit To Close Santa Monica Airport Meritless: Open Letter

Posted Nov. 1, 2013, 9:45 am

Mirror Staff

Editor's Note: Below is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's statement from AOPA’s media relations director Steve Hedges in response to the City of Santa Monica's lawsuit filed against the FAA on Thursday.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) characterized as lacking any merit in law a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the City of Santa Monica against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in what is clearly another desperate bid by the city to close Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

In its lawsuit, the Santa Monica City Council asks the court to give the city clear title to the site of the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and it reportedly challenges as unconstitutional the airport land transfers that were made with obligations that, in part, require the City to operate the airport in perpetuity. The City Council knows those obligations exist but are singularly focused on striking them down by whatever method they can find. Each time, the city has lost the battle.

As a proponent of the airport and its value to AOPA members, the local communities, and the national transportation system, AOPA has spent hundreds of hours working to keep Santa Monica Airport open. AOPA has researched the city’s legal claims over the years and has actively participated in litigation and in the public forum to strike down, time and time again, the city’s claims that the airport land is theirs to do as they want.

“It is abundantly clear that the claims made in the city’s lawsuit have no basis in fact,” said Ken Mead, AOPA general counsel. “The city’s argument is hardly a novel one, and it should be very clear by now to members of the Santa Monica City Council and opponents of the airport that 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.”

Santa Monica’s City Council has long sought to restrict and even close the airport, due to nearby resident noise complaints, though a recent survey of city residents by AOPA found that more than 70 percent wanted the airport to continue to operate. Most complaints are generated, apparently, by residents who don’t live in the city of Santa Monica.

In a statement, Santa Monica contended that it owns the airport land and that during World War II, it worked with the federal government to “expand and improve the Airport.” After the war, the city statement says: “The airport was returned to the City through an instrument of transfer. The federal government claims that the instrument of transfer obligates the City to operate the Airport ‘in perpetuity’ or forfeit its ownership interest to the federal government. The City disputes this claim.”

Santa Monica Municipal Airport was founded in 1917, when few structures were present, and it has a storied aviation heritage. In the early 1920s, it was the home of Douglas Aircraft Co., which built the first houses near the field for its employees. Since then it has become surrounded by industrial and office buildings, and more homes have been built near both ends of its single, 5,000-foot runway.

Though those homes were built long after the airport was established, homeowners complain about noise and exhaust from aircraft using the airport.

In a statement, City Manager Rod Gould said city officials have met with the FAA and, “proposed possibilities for changes, including operational changes.” Gould stated that that, “The FAA representatives were polite and respectful. But, they were simply unwilling or unable to agree to any changes that could bring significant relief to Airport neighbors. They believe that the city is legally obligated to continue operating the Airport as it now operates and to keep operating it forever because of the post-War transfers."

The FAA has offered options to the city to enhance safety of the airport but the city has flatly rejected them.

AOPA agrees with the FAA’s legal assessment of the airport’s status, which has been the subject of exhaustive review. Under a 1984 agreement with the FAA, many of the city’s leases at the airport expire in 2015. Airport opponents argue that the FAA’s obligation to the airport also expires at that time, which the FAA disputes.

The airport is home to about 267 aircraft, according to AOPA’s Airport Directory. But, more than that, “Santa Monica Airport is an integral part of the local economy, providing jobs and revenue that some estimates put over $200 million annually,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA’s vice president for airport advocacy. “The city benefits from the taxes on that revenue, not to mention the exorbitant landing fees that it has imposed. And the airport operates in the black. It has a long tradition of serving the community and providing local aviators with the freedom to fly and a great amount of previous legal research has already shown that it will continue to do so.”

Post a comment


Nov. 1, 2013, 1:51:54 pm

ilona said...

Let the surrounding neighbourhood breath clean air.The SM Airport not serving the general public, running in red for years. Serving some students to learn how to fly over a densely populated City, and few very influential people, who enjoy the convenience and close proximity to their privileged life. It is about time for a change, to serve the public.

Nov. 1, 2013, 2:57:16 pm

Ron said...

Please NOTE that the AOPA's central goal is "Protecting Your Freedom to Fly" and NOT "Creating a Healthy Santa Monica." In fact, their AOPA President misstated the facts right here in the Santa Monica Mirror several times before when on Oct 12th 2013 he inaccurately said that there were "38 accidents since 1982, 25 of them contained on the field" even though the Santa Monica Mirror's article of Sept 2, 2011 clearly LISTS (including tail numbers) that there were 52 accidents with MOST of them NOT contained on the field. Finally their President also stated incorrectly in that same Oct 12th article: "And, there has never been an off-airport fatality associated with aviation activities in recorded history." This is clearly an UNTRUE and FALSE statement. There have been MANY crashes of off-airport fatalities right here in Santa Monica and WLA into the golf course, the ocean and even people's homes. Considering that they get so many of their basic facts about SMO wrong, I would be very skeptical of anything they had to say.

Nov. 3, 2013, 8:59:39 am

ilona said...

to Mike Unfortunately, you are right. I Try to believe in the good couse, but my experience is; the stronger dogs has it`s way. I hope I am wrong

Nov. 1, 2013, 10:40:09 pm

Karen said...

How do you separate the jet fumes from that of the 10 or 405 freeway? How do you separate the noise of a jet from the sirens and traffic? Just curious.

Nov. 1, 2013, 10:54:33 pm

Mike said...

Both sides are liars. That's how America works. The best liar with the most money wins.

Nov. 1, 2013, 10:57:38 pm

Bob G said...

@mike: If I was a betting man, I'd go with the corporatists that run things. They always win. I'll bet there will still be jets landing at Santa Monica 10 years from now.

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