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Aviators Buzz Council Over New Santa Monica Airport Restrictions

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

November 3, 2015 -- A national commercial aviation association said it is considering taking “appropriate actions” following a City Council decision last week restricting certain types of aircraft fuels as conditions in future tenant leases at Santa Monica Airport.

The National Business Aviation Association  (NBAA) issued the warning on its website Friday in response to the Council's decision October 27 to put a total cap on all pollutants generated at the airport, not just emissions as originally proposed by the City Attorney. (“City Council Cracks Down on Santa Monica Airport Pollution,” October 29, 2015).

The Council also voted to allow only unleaded fuel to be sold at the airport.

In several sweeping actions, the council also voted to direct staff to study the possibility of “migrating” aviation uses to the western parcel, banned flight schools from the airport and gave the City control of selling fuel, ending third-party involvement.

On its website, the NBAA said Council members ignored a letter from Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown in which Brown vowed to hold the City “accountable” for adopting any local ordinances “at odds with its legal obligations” to keep Santa Monica Airport operating unimpeded.

As a result “the NBAA is considering appropriate actions to respond to the Council's decision to ignore its legal obligations and to proceed with the measures,” said the organization, which was created in the 1940s to promote the interests of the business aviation community.

Capping total emissions is a violation of the City's Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant assurances “and the commitments in the airport's 1948 surplus property deed,” said the NBAA.

It's the latest hands-off warning from the NBAA, which joined actor and pilot Harrison Ford and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in filing a formal complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last year seeking to have the City adhere to grant commitments to keep the airport open through 2023.

The AOPA believes the historic airport serves as a “vital reliever airport” for Los Angeles International Airport, “delivers some $250 million in annual economic impact, hosts 175 businesses, and is responsible for 1,500 jobs in Santa Monica,” the group's website said.

Santa Monica accepted grant commitments that “allow all types of aeronautical activities at the airport,” according to the NBAA.

Airport critics, including Mayor Kevin McKeown and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu have said the 1994 grant agreement allowing federal authorities to operate the airport facility for a period “not to exceed 20 years” has expired.

Brown, however, said his organization believes the City is obligated to keep Santa Monica Airport operating in perpetuity.

“The AIP commitments are in effect through 2023, but the deed-based commitments are effective in perpetuity,” he said

Despite Brown's objections, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said curbing pollution is one action the Council can legally take in the City's fight to take control over the airport.

Some residents at the October 27 meeting, however, said the measures didn't go far enough. Other critics have called for fewer flights, while still others want jets banned altogether at the airport.

FAA officials are currently reviewing the situation.

But meanwhile, Brown cautioned, the City should not adopt any new airport restriction while the issues “are working their way through FAA administrative and court proceedings.”

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