Santa Monica Lookout
|Congressman Seeks Probe of Santa Monica Airport Ruling||
By Niki Cervantes
July 20, 2016 -- U.S. Representative Ted Lieu, whose 33rd District includes Santa Monica, has joined a colleague in asking the federal General Accountability Office to investigate a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling that thwarted City officials trying to eventually shut the municipal airport.
Writing to the federal GAO lt month, Lieu and U.S. Representative Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, asked the agency to delve into the December 2015 decision and examine the accuracy of reasons for the FAA’s arguments ("FAA Rules Santa Monica Airport Must Stay Open," December 7, 2015).
The June 23 letter notes that the City received a grant from the FAA in 1994 for improvements to operate Santa Monica Airport (SMO) as an airport for 20 years, or until 2014.
But the FAA ruled instead that a 2003 modification required the City to continue operating the historic airport until 2023, the same interpretation supported by the aviation industry and others opposed to stopping air traffic at the century-old airport.
“Representative Lieu and I are asking you to review the documentation related to the 2003 grant modification and the language related to the continued obligations under the original terms of the 1994 grant,” Bass said in the letter, co-signed by Lieu.
“Under what guidance or authority does the FAA treat this as a new grant without any explicit written modification or notification to the grantee?” the letter said.
“Has the FAA or other agency made similar interpretations in the past, where a grant modification triggered a new grant period? If so, please provide information on others in a similar situation.”
The letter is to Gerald Dillingham, the head the of the agency’s issues involving civil aviation and physical infrastructure. It was sent at the behest of City officials upset by the FAA ruling and battling to close the airport on other fronts, including the courts.
The FAA ruled that Santa Monica Airport must stay open at least until 2023 -- a decision that could frustrate the city's efforts to reduce flight operations and then shut down the historic facility in the near future.
Santa Monica elected officials and anti-airport activists contend the airport can be closed well before 2023 because the grant obligations to the federal government have expired. The city contends the grant expired on June 29, 2014, two decades after the City’s original $1.6-million grant was received.
The additional $240,600 the City received for airport modification in 2003 was only an amendment and did not change the essentials of the original grant, they claim.
Neighbors near the airport claim it is too close to homes, noisy and causes possible toxic pollution. Proponents of keeping the airport open say it is an important option for Southern California’s busy skies.
More than 300 takeoffs and landings take place daily, and the airport is favored for craft flown by such famous leisure-time pilots of Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford.
Pilots, plane owners and airport tenant filed a complaint in 2014 asking that the airport be kept open for aviation, prompting the FAA ruling in their support last December.
The City appealed the ruling, but there has been no action, said Nelson Hernandez, the point person on the issue for the City Manager’s Office.
“Six months later, the FAA has yet to answer our appeal,” he said in an email update Tuesday on the airport.
"Instead, FAA has given itself two extensions of time to reach a decision. Given the facts of the case and our strong appeal arguments, we are eagerly awaiting the FAA’s answer. In the meantime, consistent support from our representatives in Washington are welcome and appreciated."
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