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City Ponders Future After Fuel Supplier Announces Exit from Santa Monica Airport  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 28, 2017 -- City officials are deciding how to supply the type of fuel used by two-thirds of aircraft at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) following the decision by American Flyers to shut down on April 15.

The City tried to evict American Flyers and Atlantic Aviation in September after voting in August to take over the aircraft-support services they provide, which range from fuel sales to flight instruction and amenities for pricey charter services ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).

Both fought back, enlisting the power of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and winning a temporary reprieve pending the outcome of litigation to stop the ousters ("FAA Orders City to Temporarily Halt Santa Monica Airport Evictions," December 14, 2016).

But the exit of American Flyers puts the ball in the City’s court, said Nelson Hernandez, senior advisor on SMO matters for City Manager Rick Cole.

"American Flyer’s unexpected decision to leave Santa Monica Airport by April 15, 2017, requires that the City carefully consider how to replace the fuel services they currently provide,” he said.

The company’s future as a “fixed-base operator” at SMO changed abruptly when the City Council announced an agreement January 28 with the FAA to shut SMO by December 31, 2028 -- a decade later than the council originally intended.

Under the consent decree, Santa Monica is required to ensure stable and continuous operations at the airport until its closure.

The pact also cleared the way for the City to provide aviation-support services. In the interim, though, the City is obligated to approve leases with private aviation companies so that continuity of operations is guaranteed.

“As outlined in the Consent Decree, the City is clear that it must provide, or provide reasonable access to a private FBO the ability to provide these services,” Hernandez said. “We will determine the safest and best approach to this work as we continue to comply with the consent decree."

SMO serves 270 aircraft and averages about 250 operations (or takeoffs and landings) a day. The county’s oldest operating airport has long been home to mostly leisure pilots.

Propeller aircraft operations comprised about 75 percent of take offs and landings in February, or 5,119 -- a drop of more than a third from February of 2016, City data shows.

Fuel sales by American Flyers generally caters single and piston twin aircraft, according to data posted on SMO’s website.

Atlantic Aviation offers Jet-A and 100LL aviation fuels. The Atlantic Aviation FBO is generally used by jet aircraft, which account for about 22 percent of SMO operations.

Hernandez said the lease for American Flyers was $11,000 to $12,000 a month.

“We’re looking at all the options” for replacing American Flyers, he said. “We need to make sure we proceed with safest option.”

Neighbors battled for closure SMO for decades, with complaints rising with the advent of jet operations there. They say the century old 227-acre facility is noisy, generates jet pollution and is a potential safety hazard.

Supporters say SMO is a key air-traffic reliever for busy Los Angeles International Airport, helps the local economy and is a base of operations for emergencies, including medical flights.

The City is hoping to transform the airport into a sprawling urban park.

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