April 25, 2011

On April 21, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution supporting efforts to close six flight schools operating at Santa Monica Airport (SMO), based on the patently false and politically motivated allegation that they are a safety hazard. The council’s resolution also expresses concern about the safety of the departure paths utilized from SMO, and the environmental impact of aircraft taking off and landing at the airport.

The resolution has no immediate effect, because the airport is owned and operated by the City of Santa Monica, not the City of Los Angeles. Moreover, earlier this year a federal court held that only the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), not Santa Monica, can impose restrictions on aeronautical activities at SMO based on safety.

But the Council’s unjustified criticism of flight schools is the latest in an unfortunate trend of local actions unfriendly to general aviation in the region. In January of this year, a court of appeals in Washington, DC ruled against an attempt by Santa Monica officials to ban “Category C and D” aircraft from SMO, indicating that such a ban would violate terms of a grant agreement made when accepting federal funds for the airport. In that dispute, NBAA was joined by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in submitting a “friend of the court” brief that strongly supported the FAA’s position that the proposed ban violated terms of a grant agreement made when SMO officials accepted federal funds for the airport.

The proposed jet ban was one of several actions taken by local officials to hinder or prohibit general aviation operations at California airports. Last year, Los Angeles City officials adopted noise restrictions that will phase-out Stage 2 aircraft from operating at Van Nuys Airport (VNY), and in 2009 the FAA rejected a proposal by Bob Hope Airport (BUR) to restrict operations by both Stage 2 and Stage 3 aircraft.

With regard to the latest action taken by Los Angeles officials against flight schools at SMO, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor stated: “Nobody has offered one bit of evidence suggesting that Santa Monica flight school operations are anything but safe.” While Los Angeles cited a July 2010 accident at a nearby golf course, “the fact is that the pilot in that crash was an experienced commercial pilot, and not a student.”

NBAA is continuing to work with its Members, other aviation groups and other stakeholders to advocate forcefully for preserving general aviation access at the nation’s airports. The Association will continue working to protect the integrity of the national aviation system on both the local and national level, and will keep Members advised as this most recent situation unfolds.

For more inforamtion, contact NBAA’s Stacy Howard, Western Region, showard@nbaa.org.