The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) welcomed action by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week to halt attempts by the city of Santa Monica, CA, to evict two long-standing fixed base operators (FBOs) at its airport, as the agency investigates the city’s compliance with its federal obligations.
“The FAA hereby orders the city to immediately cease and desist from taking any actions to evict American Flyers, Inc. and Atlantic Aviation FBO, Inc. from Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) until such time as the FAA issues a final agency decision on the NOI [Notice of Investigation],” the agency stated in the interim order dated Dec. 13.
On Aug. 23, the Santa Monica City Council passed a resolution to shut down SMO “as soon as legally permitted, with the goal of doing so on or before July 1, 2018.” The resolution also directed city staff to replace existing fuel vendors at the airport with a “proprietary” city-operated entity, and to cease the sale of leaded aviation gasoline.
One week later, the FAA responded with a letter to Santa Monica “strongly urging the city council to abide by its federal grant assurance obligations and to forbear from taking actions in furtherance of its announced intent to close the airport pending further rulings by the federal courts.” The FAA added it was “prepared to pursue all legal remedies at its disposal” to thwart the city’s attempts to restrict aviation-related operations at SMO in defiance of federal law.
Nevertheless, on Sept. 15, Santa Monica served 30-day notices of eviction to Atlantic Aviation, the field’s sole provider of Jet-A fuel, and American Flyers, a flight school and avgas fuel provider that has operated at SMO for decades. The FAA promptly initiated an investigation into the matter, and both FBOs filed emergency requests for the agency to halt the eviction process.
“Today’s cease-and-desist order allows these businesses to continue normal operations as the agency considers the validity of the city’s actions,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “Although federal regulations may allow the city to operate its own FBO, the city has also repeatedly made clear its intent to place as many restrictions as possible on general aviation operations at SMO.”
Today’s FAA order follows several ongoing legal disputes over the city’s federally-mandated obligation, under federal grant assurances, to operate the historic airport and keep it open through 2023, and in perpetuity through a 1948 instrument of transfer.
NBAA alleges the city has also mishandled airport finances, in part through continued failure to offer leases to longstanding aviation-related businesses on the field. This has resulted in the loss of more than $1 million in lease payments, per NBAA estimates, along with additional lost revenue through denying to accept new aeronautical tenants.
Most recently, NBAA joined with other SMO stakeholders, including the Santa Monica Airport Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, in requesting Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vasquez to withdraw an announced template agreement for SMO tie-down tenants that purports to allow the city to evict those users on short notice and without cause.
“These ill-conceived efforts to close and restrict the airport not only have wasted local taxpayer dollars,” Bolen concluded, “but they have resulted in lost opportunities to work with the aviation community to ensure that the airport continues to be a good neighbor and a vibrant, irreplaceable asset.”