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"Editorial: Santa Monica versus the FAA over airport"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Editorial Santa Monica versus the FAA over airport 
Santa Monica and the federal government have long disagreed about the status
of the city's small airport. (Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles (CA) Times Editorial Board

The Santa Monica Airport has long been embattled. City officials and nearby
residents have made no secret of the fact that they are weary of it,
especially as larger and larger private jets take off from and land on its
single runway. Neighbors, some living no more than 300 feet from the runway,
worry over safety, noise, and air pollution. The city has been in and out of
court for decades, dueling with the Federal Aviation Administration - which
oversees the city's compliance with federal rules on aircraft and airport
operations - for the right to close the airport or curtail its activities..

Now, the City Council has bypassed the courts and gone to its voters.
Measure LC, which asserts that it is up to the City Council to decide how to
manage the airport and whether to close all or part of it, passed decisively
on Tuesday.

However, it's unlikely that the measure can be implemented any time soon
without another court battle. There's no question that the city owns the
airport, the oldest in Los Angeles County. But it has also had a long
relationship with the federal government, which leased the airport for
defense purposes during World War II. The U.S. returned the airport -
extensively refurbished - in 1948 under an official transfer agreement that
allowed the city to run it as long as it operated as an airport. A
settlement between the city and the FAA in 1984 laid out strict noise
abatement rules and obligated the city to maintain the airport until July
2015. The city has received about $10 million in improvement grants from the
FAA since 1985 - also on the condition that the airport function until 2015.
An additional $240,000 received in 2003 pushed that deadline to 2023,
according to the FAA. The city disagrees.

Regardless of when that deadline comes, the FAA's broader position is that
Santa Monica agreed in 1948 to maintain an airport in perpetuity. City
officials find that ridiculous. "We cannot be required to operate an airport
indefinitely if that is not the will of the people," says City Manager Rod

But shutting down an airport is not like closing a landfill. The Santa
Monica Airport, though not the busiest general aviation facility in the
state (that distinction goes to Van Nuys Airport), plays a vital role in the
region's transportation system, as the base of operation for over 400
aircraft. Open to private business and recreational aircraft, it relieves
Los Angeles International Airport of some smaller plane traffic. Flight
schools, airplane maintenance, charter jet businesses, and emergency and
medical flight services all use it as a base.

As for safety issues, between 1982 and 2013 there were 13 fatal crashes
within five miles of the airport resulting in the deaths of 25 people. No
one on the ground has been killed or seriously injured. That's significant
given the concerns of residents living close to the runway. None of the
accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board has been
attributed to the layout of the airport or the dimensions of the runway,
which have been concerns of the community.

City governments do close down small airports - but those airports don't get
federal funding or operate under transfer agreements with the federal
government. That's why Santa Monica officials and airport critics are
desperate to free themselves from the yoke of federal support for the
airport. But they need to realize that as long as this airport remains
crucial to transportation in the region, it makes sense for the FAA to have
a significant say in whether it remains open.

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