Santa Monica sues FAA over Santa Monica Airport

The city of Santa Monica filed suit Thursday against the Federal Aviation Administration in a battle that could shape the future of Santa Monica Airport.

According to the suit, filed in Federal Court in Los Angeles, Santa Monica seeks to have the court rule that that the city holds the clear title to the land and can do with it what it wants once a 25-year-old agreement with the FAA expires in 2015. The suit asks the court to declare unconstitutional an FAA claim that the city must operate the airport in perpetuity.

The airport, wedged in a residential area and populated by private jets, is a hot-button issue in Santa Monica. Many residents want it closed for issues of noise and safety. The issue moved to the forefront earlier this month after a jet crashed at the airport, as Los Angeles Times reporters Dan Weikel and Angel Jennings reported.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor declined to comment on pending litigation. But yes, the FAA has in the past advocated that the airport stay open. Here’s why, according a statement the FAA has been using for several years:

In the FAA’s view, the City is obligated to keep Santa Monica Airport open through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal Airport Improvement Program grants.  The FAA also believes that the City is separately obligated to operate Santa Monica Airport beyond 2023 because it acquired the land on which the airport is located cost free from the Federal Government in 1948 under an instrument of transfer pursuant to the Surplus Property Act. The FAA is fully committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping this airport open and operating, including specific performance of these obligations.

I don’t regularly cover Santa Monica airport, but it will be interesting to see how this resolves.

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