Santa Monica Lookout
|FAA Opens Probe of City Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport
By Niki Cervantes
September 28, 2016 -- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is opening an investigation into the City Council’s new plans to finally close Santa Monica Airport, according to a letter the City said it received from the agency Monday.
The City Council on August 23 voted to approve the closure of the municipal airport by July 1 of 2018, if legally possible, as well as several other steps aimed at removing aviation from SMO ("Santa Monica Council Votes for 2018 Airport Closure," August 25, 2016).
In the notice, the FAA said the council’s actions “may be causing, and appear intended to cause, impairment of the airport, including but not limited to, a de facto closure of the airport in violation of applicable law.”
Mayor Tony Vazquez said Tuesday the FAA “is clearly on a fishing expedition to protect Washington special interests who fear losing corporate profits.”
“This is an overreach by the FAA,” he said in a statement. “Our priority is putting the community first and exercising our rights as owner and operator of the airport. Despite the FAA’s efforts, we will not falter on our commitment to safeguard our community from the negative impacts of the airport until the courts make a final determination.”
City officials will testify as part of the probe at the FAA’s regional office on October 12. The FAA also said the investigation is being expedited because the City served notice on September 15 to two major aviation-related tenants at SMO giving them 30 days to leave ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).
As a result, the FAA is giving the City 10 days to respond instead of the normal 30 days, the letter said.
FAA subpoenas in the probe are zeroing in on the planned takeover by the City of aviation-relation functions now supplied by Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers Flight School, the fixed-base operators that received eviction notices.
No extensions of time will be granted unless the City withdraws its evictions, the FAA warned.
The City Council was widely praised by local residents a little more than a month ago when it voted to close the airport, which is under fire by neighbors in the now densely populated Santa Monica and Los Angeles communities that surround SMO.
But the FAA –- a longtime and powerful foe in the closure battle –- immediately registered its displeasure with threats to countermand the vote.
Its letter said the council voted to close the airport despite “FAA's recent Final Agency Decision that requires the City to operate the airport until at least 2023.”
The agency also said a new airport leasing policy provided long-term security to other tenants at SMO while denying such leases to aeronautical users.
It also cited the City Manager’s “intent” (ordered by the council) to “implement the airport closure resolution by, among other things, phasing out the sale of leaded fuel that is necessary for the operation of most aircraft and entering into contract negotiations to replace it with unleaded fuel.”
The City and SMO residential neighbors have fought for at least five decades to shutter the century old airport.
The FAA contends that SMO -- which serves corporate jets and smaller aircraft used by leisure pilots (including actor Harrison Ford) -- is a vital relief value for busy Los Angeles International Airport.
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