January 31, 2011

Much of the business aviation community, along with communities that surround airports nationwide, have watched closely over the past two decades as the city of Santa Monica, CA, has tried a number of tactics to ban certain types of aircraft from its airport. Most recently, this effort took the form of a ban on all Category C and D aircraft, allegedly for safety reasons.

That effort came to a halt when, on January 21, 2011, a federal court ruled that the city’s proposed ban is not justified by safety concerns, and “violates Santa Monica’s obligations under Grant Assurance 22.” Under that assurance, the city received $10.2 million between 1985 and 2003 as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program. View the US Court of Appeals ruling.

The court’s ruling supports earlier findings by the FAA, even though Santa Monica had claimed the administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously when it concluded that the ordinance violates” the grant assurance. But what does the ruling mean for other attempts by local authorities to limit or ban aircraft operations?

“What Santa Monica was attempting to do was assert that localities can pick and choose which aircraft can serve their airports,” said Washington-based aviation attorney Jol Silversmith in an interview for a special edition of the NBAA Flight Plan podcast.

Silversmith, who was deeply involved with the litigation on behalf of the NBAA, said that the city’s attempt would have put business aviation on a slippery slope at airports across the country.

“That’s a very dangerous position for business aviation because the next airport may decide they want a more far-reaching ban than Santa Monica – that would ban a quarter, 50- percent, or 100-percent of the business aircraft serving that airport,” Silversmith said. The court’s decision on Santa Monica serves notice, according to Silversmith, that such activities on behalf of airport authorities simply won’t fly.

“It certainly is an important marker by FAA that it intends to continue to protect the interests of business aviation and will not allow local airports to chip away at the margins to get their foot in the door” of even larger restrictions, he said.