CITY HALL — Jets are allowed to continue using Santa Monica Airport while federal aviation and city officials battle over the legality of a locally-imposed ban on the largest and fastest aircraft.
That’s according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which recently denied a request by City Hall to lift an injunction against the ban on categories C and D jets, which the City Council passed last spring and was challenged by the Federal Aviation Administration soon after.
The May 8 ruling from the three-judge panel, which heard the case last November, came less than a week before both parties were expected to hear the outcome of the FAA’s administrative hearing on the ban, which is expected sometime Thursday.
The result didn’t come as a surprise to city officials.
Ivan Campbell, the deputy city attorney, said that the court focused on the issue of whether the preliminary injunction should have been issued by U.S. District Court Judge George Wu last year. He said that the evidence City Hall had in its favor, which were introduced during the administrative hearing, wasn’t reviewed by the court.
“We anticipated this ruling because the court wasn’t privy to all the evidence,” he said.
Campbell said he does not believe the court ruling will have an impact on the outcome of the administrative hearing.
The panel in its decision noted that an applicant for a preliminary injunction must show three factors to be true — they are likely to succeed on the merits, will suffer from irreparable harm in the absence of such an order, and the injunction would be in the public’s interest.
The judges ruled that the FAA was not only likely to succeed on the merits of their case, but that the injunction would be in the public’s interest because of the disruption that could occur to air traffic.
“Given the safety history of category C and D aircraft at SMO, the FAA’s role in ensuring aviation safety, and the potential disturbance to air traffic around the Los Angeles area, the preliminary relief requested is in the public interest,” the court stated in its ruling.
The ordinance was passed in March 2008 in response to residents’ concerns over the lack of runway safety measures at Santa Monica Airport (SMO), fearing that a plane would one day overshoot the strip and land on homes. The airport is unique in that there are homes located just 300 feet from both the east and west ends of the runway.
The FAA has made a number of proposals to city officials, including installing a series of concrete blocks meant to give way under the weight of an aircraft. The recommendations were denied by city officials are being insufficient. Officials with the administration have long contended that the ban is illegal.
“We’ve always been confident in our legal position from the very start,” Ian Gregor, the spokesman for the FAA, said.
Brian Bland, a Sunset Park resident who attended the court hearing in Pasadena last year, said that he wasn’t surprised by the outcome, noting that one of the judges implied that the airport was not in danger because there was no history of jets crashing at SMO.
“That’s despite the fact that just late last year, there was a tragic accident involving such jets in South Carolina that killed four people when the jet overran a runway much longer than the one in Santa Monica,” he said, referring to a crash in September 2008 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM were injured in the crash.
Campbell said that he expects city officials will not act on the court ruling and will instead wait until the administrative decision comes out on Thursday.
If that ruling is unfavorable, City Hall has the option of appealing to the FAA’s associate administrator for policy, planning and the environment. The decision would need to be made by July 8.