SMO — Although an agreement between the federal government and City Hall governing the operation of Santa Monica Airport expires in 2015, FAA officials say that’s no reason to expect significant change at SMO. And it’s certainly not a reason to look forward to an airport closure, the agency says.

“In the FAA’s view, the city is obligated to keep SMO open through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal Airport Improvement Program grants,” Ian Gregor, an agency spokesman, said last week.

Further, he said the agency believes there’s a requirement to keep the facility open indefinitely because of legal obligations contained in the 1948 property deal that led to the current arrangement for SMO’s operation.

“The FAA is fully committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping this airport open and operating,” Gregor said.

Gregor’s comments came after the City Council last week agreed to hire RAND Corp. to conduct a study of SMO’s impacts, part of a City Hall effort to gather input about the facility’s future ahead of the 2015 expiration.

Local officials lately have been careful to emphasize that the steps being taken aren’t aimed at making the case to shutter the airport, but rather at understanding a range of possible changes that could be made at the airport.

To date, there has been no formal recommendation from City Hall, as officials cite the need to wait to take a position until after a series of community meetings about the airport is held next year.

SMO has long been a source of resident anger, with safety concerns, pollution from aircraft emissions and noise from fly-overs topping the list of complaints. The impending expiration of the contract with the federal government to operate the airport has stoked interest in pushing for permanent changes at SMO and prompted some to call for its closure.

It’s unclear whether the FAA would be amenable to a potential compromise proposal calling for scaled-back aircraft operations at SMO combined with more community-friendly uses of the facility.

“Without knowing what kind of changes they might be talking about it’s really impossible for us to comment,” Gregor said.

Reached on Monday, Mayor Richard Bloom said the FAA’s insistence that city officials have little control over the future of SMO was no surprise.

“FAA officials are entitled to their opinions and Mr. Gregor’s fits nicely into their ongoing narrative that seeks to minimize the city’s jurisdiction regarding the airport,” he said. “But, I am quite confident that the city will have many more options after 2015 than the FAA is willing to admit. As far as I am concerned it is the city that will determine the fate of the airport and what is best for the community.”

nickt@smdp.com

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