The legal agreement allowing Santa Monica to close its airport in 2029 survived another protracted court battle this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a challenge brought by aviation groups. The court rejected the argument that the Consent Decree between the City of Santa Monica and the FAA amounted to “procedural trickery” and exceeded the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority.
“There is nothing unusual or untoward about parties seeking to settle litigation through a consent decree,” the order said. The court also said the decree is only reviewable by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because it was issued by the Central District of California.
The 2017 settlement agreement ended decades of court battles between the City and the FAA over the fate of SMO. The FAA argued deed restrictions required the city to operate the airport in perpetuity. City lawyers argued those restrictions and other grant conditions had already expired, allowing the city to regain control over the land. City leaders called the compromise “historic” when they announced the terms at a City Council meeting and elected officials voted 4-3 to approve the agreement.
“The ruling by the D.C. Circuit affirms yet again that our agreement with the FAA is sound,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “One year in, we see the terms of the agreement in action are working. The runway shortening has significantly reduced jet traffic and we are steadily creating a plan to convert airport land into a great park that will benefit the entire community.”
The agreement allowed the city to immediately shorten the airport’s sole runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, which was completed in December 2017. Since then, jet traffic has fallen 80 percent, according to figures provided by the City. City leaders say they will turn the airport into a regional park of nearly 250 acres in 2029.
Despite the ruling, the National Business Aviation Association has vowed to keep fighting the decree that allowed the city to shorten the runway at SMO and eventually close it.
“We’re obviously disappointed by this decision, but it’s important to note the court did not make a determination as the merits of our arguments against the validity of the original settlement agreement,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “This ruling was purely a matter of procedure, and in no way does it establish a precedent by which the FAA may enter into similar agreements affecting the fates of other vital general aviation airports.”
The NBAA brought the case along with the Santa Monica Airport Association, Bill’s Air Center, Kim Davidson Aviation, Redgate Partners, LLC, and Wonderful Citrus, LLC.