Advocates Continue Battle To Save Santa Monica Airport

Despite recent legal setbacks, the National Business Aviation Association and local airport advocates are continuing their fight to preserve California's Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), filing actions in the U.S. Court of Appeals and District Court for the District of Columbia.

The appeals court in June denied a lawsuit filed by the NBAA and airport stakeholders that sought to overturn a January 2017 settlement agreement between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica that paved the way for the city to shorten the airport runway and to ultimately close SMO after 2028. The case was rejected on procedural grounds, with a finding that the settlement agreement was not a “final agency action” reviewable by the court.

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The efforts come as the airport is set to close for a 10-period while the city shortens the SMO runway.

Noting that the court did not evaluate the petition on its substance, the groups filed an en banc petition requesting a rehearing. The en banc petition argues that “final agency” orders should be given a broad definition. “If allowed to stand, [the panel’s decision] demarks a path by which agencies may enter final orders without them being subject to Circuit review, defying the intent of Congress and well-established precedent that agency decision-making is presumptively reviewable,” the NBAA and the other SMO advocates told the court.

Separately, the NBAA and the other SMO groups last week filed a complaint in district court seeking a determination that the FAA acted beyond its jurisdiction in the settlement agreement.

The district court filing stresses that the FAA failed to follow established procedures when it concluded that continued operations of SMO are not “necessary to protect or advance the civil aviation interests of the United States.” This position, the NBAA believes, contradicts the FAA’s mission.

“Not only will NBAA continue fighting to preserve this vital Southern California airport, but we also feel we have a duty to stand up when we believe the FAA has exceeded its authority, and to ensure the court recognizes that the FAA and other government agencies cannot be shielded from judicial review,” NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said.

Other petitioners include the Santa Monica Airport Association, Bill’s Air Center, Kim Davidson Aviation, Redgate Partners, and Wonderful Citrus.