CITY HALL — The City Attorney’s Office on Monday filed papers in a Washington, D.C. federal appellate court arguing City Hall has the right to ban certain high-speed jets from landing at Santa Monica Airport.

The filing is the latest chapter in a decade-old dispute that pits SMO officials and the City Council against the Federal Aviation Administration.

At issue is whether City Hall, which owns and operates SMO, has the authority to ban high-speed “type C and D” jets from using its runway because of safety concerns.

City Hall has long held the position that the airport can’t safely accommodate the jets because it doesn’t have enough space for adequate buffer areas at the ends of its runway.

Under FAA safety regulations, newly built airports need 1,000-foot safety areas to adequately protect against pilots flying type C and D jets overshooting the landing strip, said Bob Trimborn, SMO’s manager. It’s impossible to meet that standard at boxed-in SMO, he said, where homes are located roughly 300 feet from either end of the 5,000-foot runway.

Trimborn raised the safety concern a decade ago, and in 2008 the City Council enacted a ban on the fastest jets that land at SMO.

The ordinance has never been enforced, though, because the FAA has maintained City Hall overstepped its authority to regulate air traffic with the ban. An FAA administrator agreed last summer, ruling that the ban amounted to discrimination against certain classes of aircraft.

The FAA has defended its position by arguing SMO is “grandfathered in” and doesn’t need to comply with the latest safety regulations.

The filing Monday was the first step in City Hall’s appeal of the administrator’s decision.

The appeal was filed in the District of Columbia Circuit instead of in California’s Ninth Circuit based on the City Council’s view that the D.C. court, which routinely hears appeals pertaining to agencies of the federal government, would be a better venue for the case, said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.

She said her office and outside attorneys from Kaplan & Kirsch, which specializes in aviation law, will be making familiar arguments before the appellate court.

City Hall should be able to uphold federal safety standards by banning jets that can’t be accommodated at SMO under FAA’s safety rules, she said.

She said the status quo is both a safety risk and a potential liability. If an accident caused damage that would have been prevented by longer buffer zones, she said it could be costly for City Hall.

“As the owner and operator of the airport we believe we have a legal right to shield ourselves against liability,” Moutrie said.

To Trimborn, enforcing the ban is common sense.

“It all has to do with the safe operation of an airport and trying to conform to the FAA’s own design standard for runway safety areas,” he said.

A spokesman for the FAA, Ian Gregor, declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said his agency remains confident in its legal position.

If the ban were implemented, about half of the 6,500 jet landings that take place at SMO each year would be barred, Trimborn said. The banned jets would have to divert to LAX of Van Nuys Airport, which have runways with 1,000-foot buffer zones.

Type C and D jets account for only about 6 percent of the total takeoffs and landings that take place at SMO each year.

The FAA has until June 4 to respond to City Hall’s filing. No hearings in the case have been scheduled, and Moutrie said she doesn’t expect a decision until next fall.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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