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Federal Airport Bill Attracts Attention in Santa Monica
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 9, 2016 -- A bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to consider community impacts when determining flight patterns could factor into the debate on the future of the Santa Monica Airport.

Members of the Santa Monica Airport Commission discussed the legislation introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warrren (D-Massachusetts) at their recent meeting.

Although one commissioner wanted the City Council to endorse the measure immediately, the majority determined more research was needed to be done.

“This bill will provide communities in Massachusetts and other affected states with a real voice in the FAA's decision-making process and will require the FAA to reconsider flight routes that are exposing residents to unacceptable levels of noise," Warren said in an April statement.

Called the FAA Community Accountability Act, the bill hasn’t been designated a number yet and was referred to a Senate committee for further review.

Warren says it is a companion bill to the similarly worded US House Resolution 3965, which was introduced in November and is cosponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu, whose district includes Santa Monica.

Warren’s bill calls for the appointment of an ombudsman in each FAA region who would “act as a liaison between affected communities and the administrator [of the FAA].”

The ombudsman would make recommendations and “improve the use of community comments in [FAA] decision-making processes,” including with regard to flight pattern changes.

Although Warren focused on noise impacts in her press release, the bill states that community concerns regarding “pollution and safety” must also be taken into consideration when determining flight patterns.

It also says the FAA cannot bypass the environmental review process when determining new flight patterns over the objection of a local community.

The bill specifically refers to “problems related to the impact of commercial aviation.” Santa Monica Airport commissioners said they wanted the wording changed to “general aviation.”

The companion bill in the US House was referred to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in November, but has not advanced passed the introduction phase, according to the congressional website.

Santa Monica Airport commissioners will discuss Warren’s bill further at their next meeting later this month, and possibly recommend the City Council pass a resolution backing it.

Commissioners also talked about trying to get the State legislature involved.

The bill’s introduction comes at a time when the battle over Santa Monica Airport is escalating.

Although an agreement between the City and the FAA that the property be used for aviation purposes expired last July, the agency ruled in December that the airport must remain open at least until 2023.

The City appealed the decision.

On a separate, but related matter, the City was in federal appellate court in March challenging a lower court’s determination it had run out of time to sue the FAA over control of the airport.

The higher court has not yet issued a decision.

Meanwhile, aviation interests are leaving the airport (“Major Aviation-Related Tenant at Santa Monica Airport to Vacate,” March 1, 2016 and “Aviation School Leaving Santa Monica Airport,” April 28, 2016).

While some opponents see this as a positive sign that the airport is nearing closer to closure, many aviation interests are keeping up the fight and have taken their complaints to the FAA (“City Is Squeezing Santa Monica Airport Aviation Tenants,” February 10, 2016).

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