After a decade-long relationship between American Flyers and the City of Santa Monica at SMO, the fix-base operator (FBO) is cleared for departure.
American Flyers will close up shop, empty its fuel tanks and remove hoses and credit card equipment Saturday, according to a letter sent to the Federal Aviation Administration by Santa Monica Airport Association’s counsel, David Shaby II.
As American Flyers gets ready to leave Santa Monica Airport after eleven years of operations, the City has already selected their replacement.
The same property management company that took over overseeing specific airport leaseholds in 2015, Aeroplex/Aerolease Group, will now also manage and operate self-service fueling at SMO starting Sunday, April 16. The City says the deal will ensure non-stop service for pilots flying out of the small airport. Atlantic Aviation also provides fuel by truck at the airport.
“We recognize the urgent need to transition fuel operations seamlessly, so there is minimal interruption in service to the general aviation community,” Aeroplex president and CEO Curt Castagna said in a statement. Aeroplex also manages leaseholds at the Van Nuys and Long Beach Airports. The company is also involved in aviation facility design, construction, lease negotiations and government affairs.
“We were surprised by American Flyers’ notice to vacate SMO, but Aeroplex will step in and provide similar service,” Mayor Ted Winterer said.
The FBO’s departure is the latest in a flurry of changes at the airport since the City entered into a Consent Decree with the Federal Aviation Administration that allows the airport to close Dec. 31, 2028. The unprecedented decree also allows the City to demolish 1,500 feet of runway, which will greatly curb get operations at SMO. As a part of the agreement, the City must operate the airport in good faith until it is eventually closed in eleven years.
According to Shaby’s letter to the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel, American Flyers felt forced out. Shaby urged the FAA to step in and ensure smooth operations for airport tenants.
“As you are likely aware, after years of harassment by the City over its flight school operations and the ongoing threat of Airport closure, American Flyers has decided to relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona,” Shaby said.
In September last year, Santa Monica served American Flyers and Atlantic Aviation with eviction notices ordering them to leave the airport by Oct. 15. The City aimed to take over the fuel sale business at SMO. Late last year, the FAA issued a cease-and-desist order against the City to preserve the operators, but that was before the FAA entered into the surprise agreement with Santa Monica to end all litigation between the two parties over the airport.
Leaded jet fuel is a major source of concern for residents in the surrounding neighborhood who have lobbied to get the airport shut down entirely. Lead is a known neurotoxin that has been banned from gasoline used in cars but is still found in some types of aviation gas. City leaders have suggested the City itself may eventually take over the management of fuel sales at the airport in order to eliminate lead content. In the Consent Decree, the FAA agreed to consider any demonstration project the City may seek to implement pertaining to the use of unleaded fuel.
Nonetheless, the City had recently offered American Flyers a three-year lease to continue to sell fuel at the airport, according to acting City attorney, Joseph Lawrence. Instead, March 7 American Flyers announced it would vacate in just over a month’s time. In a letter to the FAA, Lawrence points out the irony that a company once suing to stay at SMO abruptly “changed its tune,” calling it a “self-interested business decision,” not a result of harassment.