Contact: Dan Hubbard, (202) 783-9360, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, DC, March 11, 2016 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today reasserted its long-standing support for California’s historic Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO). The association’s latest expression of support came in connection with oral arguments on an appeal of an earlier court ruling denying on procedural grounds the city’s interpretation of the terms of the 1948 document transferring ownership of SMO from the federal government to the city.
In February 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that the city raised its concerns too late over terms of the 1948 “instrument of transfer” agreement that returned control over the newly expanded military airfield to the city. Santa Monica officials had asserted that the city never relinquished its title to the airport land when it leased the property to the U.S. government ahead of World War II.
NBAA joined with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in supporting the counterargument of the FAA and Department of Justice that any questions over title ownership to the airport must be settled under the terms of the Quiet Title Act, which requires such lawsuits to be filed within 12 years after a claimant learns of the federal government’s interest in the property.
“The court threw out the city’s argument in 2014 due to the statute of limitations on the matter having expired,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure. “In their appeal, Santa Monica officials reasserted their earlier claim that the city never gave up its authority over airport property in the lease agreement with the federal government, despite historical documents showing they were aware of the federal position not just 12 years, but seven decades ago.”
Questions over the instrument of transfer status are only one aspect of the ongoing fight to preserve SMO, as city officials continue their efforts to shutter the airport and repurpose the land.
Earlier this year, NBAA joined with AOPA and four airport tenants to file a Part 16 complaint with the FAA, alleging numerous violations of the city’s grant-based obligations to SMO, including diversion of airport revenues for non-airport purposes and lack of long-term leases.
In the latest salvo, on March 1 approximately 75 SMO-based businesses received notices to vacate, following the dissolution of the city’s agreement with former master tenant Gunnell Properties. That company was forced to close its doors as the result of the city’s imposition of financial constraints on airport businesses and refusal to offer long-term leases. Each of Gunnells sub-tenants, most of which are aviation-related businesses, must now resubmit lease proposals for “consideration” on unspecified terms to become direct tenants of the city.
Responding to the city’s actions, NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown sent a letter to Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vazquez, noting that the city, “has entered into and is bound by certain agreements with the federal government, which sharply limit its discretion in its oversight of the airport.”
“In light of the city’s longstanding and increasingly obvious contempt for aviation-related concerns at the airport, NBAA is monitoring this situation closely to ensure that tenants are treated fairly and in accordance with the city’s federal obligations to operate SMO,” added Stacy Howard, NBAA Western regional representative.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel judges Harry Pregerson, Richard Paez and Jacqueline Nguyen heard the case, with a ruling expected later this year.
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Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, DC, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful. The association represents more than 10,000 companies and provides more than 100 products and services to the business aviation community, including the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, the world’s largest civil aviation trade show. Learn more about NBAA at www.nbaa.org.
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