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City Prepares to Respond to FAA

By Lookout Staff

June 5 -- The City this week plans to appeal a determination by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that a law banning large private jets from Santa Monica Airport violates the City’s federal obligations, making it ineligible for grants.

Unless they eliminate the violations, City officials last week were given 20 days to request an administrative hearing or 30 days to appeal the determination issued Thursday. If no appeal is filed, the determination becomes final.

“We’ll probably apply for an administrative hearing,” said Deputy City Attorney Martin Tachiki. “We’ll make that decision by the end of the week.”

The FAA’s initial determination concludes that the City's Ordinance -- which bans jets with approach speeds of between 139 and 191 mph -- is “unlawful.”

“Federal aviation law preempts local ordinances such as the City's designed to control flight operations and impede safe and efficient airspace management,” FAA officials wrote.

“The City's Ordinance is an unlawful attempt to manage the movement of aircraft and control use of the navigable airspace.”

FAA officials countered the City’s contention that the ban is necessary to protect neighboring residents from runaway jets.

“The City has attempted to justify its action by asserting that the safety of its community is its highest priority,” FAA officials wrote. “Safety is also the highest priority of the FAA.

“The FAA Office of Airport Safety and Standards gave serious consideration to the City's concerns, and the agency continues to believe that safety improvements can be made to the runway ends at (the airport) without interfering with reasonable access to the airport by aircraft operators.”

By banning all of its C and D category aircraft operations, the airport “would impact not only its facility, but that of other airports, all of which are critically tied to air traffic control and airspace management.”

The FAA also countered the City’s contention that the current runway safety areas at the 62-year-old municipal airport fail to meet the agency’s own standards.

“As to the City's argument that it is enforcing the FAA's RSA (Runway Safety Area) standard, the standard is clearly a safety enhancement for airports, which is applied to new runway projects at airports to the degree practicable,” the FAA wrote.

The determination came two weeks after the City asked an Appeals Court to stay a District Court ruling barring it from enforcing the ordinance.

Filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the application argues that the City “is likely to succeed on the merits of the case” because, as Airport proprietor, it has the power to dictate usage of the facility in order to protect safety, City officials said.

The City has called the federal government’s challenge a “legal assault” on an ordinance responding to increasing concerns that soaring jet traffic -- from 4,829 jet operations in 1994 to 18,575 last year -- is putting neighboring homes, as well as pilots, in danger.





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