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JetsuiteX Affordable Flights at Santa Monica Airport Not Yet Approved
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 21, 2016 -- Although JetSuiteX is selling low-priced charter seats for flights out of embattled Santa Monica Airport, a top City official said Tuesday the company has yet to obtain a clearance essential to lift off: A City-issued permit.

A new public charter service, JetSuiteX began selling seats December 14 for flights to and from Santa Monica Airport, with service to start February 6. Destinations include Las Vegas, San Jose and San Diego County, the company said.

But the City of Santa Monica, which owns the airport, said JetSuite, the parent company, has not yet been granted a permit for the new operation.

“JetSuite X has filed an application with the City for a Commercial Operator Permit (COP) as is required by City ordinance,” said Nelson Hernandez, senior advisor on SMO issues for City Manager Rick Cole.

“The City will evaluate their COP request in the normal course of business and render a decision based on the totality of the application,” he said.

SMO caters almost exclusively to private aviators and users of corporate jets. Hopping a flight for the general public from SMO is cost prohibitive, with charter services like Jetsuite charging thousands of dollars for even a quick jaunt up the coast.

News of the inexpensive flights for the public –- with some tickets selling as low as $29 –- raised new questions about the fight over SMO’s future.

Neighborhood groups have been lobbying the City to close the century-old airport for decades, particularly since the popularity in jet traffic started causing significant increases in noise and, residents say, pollution.

The City Council voted in August to close SMO by June 30 of 2018 if legally possible, but has been stalled so far by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and litigation.

Now, SMO’s opponents are calling for the City to deny a permit to JetsuiteX, contending that to allow the flights would undermine the effort to shutter the airport.

“If there are airlines operating commercial enterprises, i.e., scheduled flights or “for rent Uber” flights, the city has the right to regulate whether or not these businesses operate in the City of Santa Monica,” said Jonathan Stein, an attorney representing neighborhoods opposed to SMO’s continued operation as an airport.

“The City needs to assert its policing power to stop these businesses,” he wrote in an email to airport opponents.

Some airport opponents are particularly uneasy about whether the City will follow through on its vow to close the airport ("Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport by 2018," July 28, 2016).

A “recurring” concern is that “the City does something that looks good, i.e., appeals, leasing policy, eviction notices, but then does not follow through with any meaningful action that impacts airport flight operations,” Stein said. “Please show us you are committed to end the operations at the airport.”

The City is due in Superior Court on January 3 over its attempt to evict two SMO tenants who provide fuel and other aviation services ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).

The evictions were ordered as part of a City takeover of the aviation-related services provided by Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, as part of the council’s decision to close the airport.

City attorneys are discussing a deal that would allow the tenants to stay, according to those who heard the disclosures during court proceedings on December 1. The City has not confirmed whether such negotiations are underway ("Santa Monica Decides to Delay Court Fight Over Airport Tenant’s Eviction," December 7, 2016).

SMO handled 8,280 aircraft operations last month, a five percent dip from the same month last year but still part of a steady rise in aeronautic traffic since 2012, officials say ("Santa Monica Airport Operations Slowly Rise, Report Finds," November 30, 2016).

But jet traffic -- the cause of most complaints from neighbors -- rose almost 38 percent, from 1,094 in October 2012 to 1,506 as of October, officials said.

Jet operations last month averaged 50 per day, it said.

JetSuiteX began operating in April with flights between Burbank and Carlsbad.

The Irvine-based company is one of the largest private-charter providers in the country and recently began adding short-haul operations for the public in San Francisco and Southern California, according to published reports.

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