Santa Monica airport

Oct. 16, 2020

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently dismissed the case filed by NBAA and four other stakeholders that sought judicial review of the settlement agreement between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica, CA. The unprecedented 2017 agreement provided the city with the option to close Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) after Dec. 31, 2028 and allowed the airport’s sole runway to be shortened from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet, among other provisions.

NBAA alleged the agency exceeded its authority when it entered into the agreement, and the association immediately challenged the settlement in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Following the dismissal of that case on procedural grounds in June 2018, NBAA pursued another legal path to preserve SMO, filing this complaint in July 2018.

The complaint cited the 1958 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Leedom v. Kyne as a precedent enabling the challenge of statutory violations by federal agencies, even if the agency actions were deemed to be “non-final” and thus ordinarily not subject to review. However, the judge dismissed the case on procedural grounds, ruling that it failed to satisfy all of the jurisdictional requirements of Leedom.

Read the Opinion from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (PDF)

The ruling was “disappointing, in that it shielded FAA action from judicial review,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure. “Despite not successfully overturning the settlement agreement, NBAA remains committed to supporting the Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) and engaging with city officials and community representatives to ensure a viable future for their local airport.”

Gertsen further noted that the airport not only serves as an important node in the national air transportation system; it is also a source for jobs and has a significant economic impact. The airfield plays an important role in aeromedical transport, and it stands ready to support disaster-relief efforts.

“It would be irresponsible governance for the Santa Monica City Council to exercise the option to close the airport, which greatly benefits the majority of Santa Monica’s population, based on pressure from a small but vocal cluster,” he added.

NBAA, SMAA and other general aviation groups also support a case pending before the California Supreme Court that could shift the balance in favor of preserving SMO over the present city council’s anti-airport stance.

“City council members are currently elected at-large,” Gertsen explained. “The issue now before the court would create a more diverse representation of the population, bringing new leaders to the council who reside in other geographic areas of the city and have different perspectives on the issues than the current city leadership.”

Gertsen further emphasized NBAA’s continued efforts to preserve SMO are important to avoid an adverse national precedent. NBAA and aviation groups must demonstrate they will stand up to thwart efforts by municipalities or the FAA to shutter vital local airports.

“We will vigilantly continue to defend access to airports throughout our country,” he concluded. “The business aviation community must remain proactive in combating threats to our nation’s aviation infrastructure.”