SMO ¬ó The Federal Aviation Administration is staying out of the escalating argument about a proposal to pay flight schools at Santa Monica Airport to conduct some training flights elsewhere.

The program was meant to reduce air traffic on weekends and holidays by 4,800 operations by encouraging flight schools to take training flights that involve multiple takeoffs and landings to nearby airports.

Any qualifying flight would entitle the schools to a $150 reimbursement meant to cover the additional cost of flying to another location.

Officials from cities and counties with nearby airports that might end up absorbing the additional traffic cried foul and demanded that the FAA take a look at the plan.

It doesn’t look like the federal agency will be diving into the fray immediately.

“While we have not reviewed the specifics of Santa Monica’s proposal, generally an airport operator does not need the FAA’s approval to establish a voluntary program that is offered to all flight schools at the airport,” wrote Ian Gregor, a spokesperson for the FAA, in an e-mail.

Furthermore, airports that have accepted federal grants ¬ó often for expensive capital improvements ¬ó cannot discriminate against any group of users, including student pilots and their instructors on a training flight from Santa Monica.

Santa Monica city officials and the FAA rarely find themselves in agreement when it comes to policies around airport access.

City Hall lost a long-fought legal battle with the FAA over an attempt to ban certain kinds of jet aircraft from landing at SMO just last year.

City Hall is currently in the process of figuring out what it wants to do with the airport property after 2015 when it believes its obligations to the federal government for its last round of grants have expired.

If an airport is no longer encumbered to the FAA through grant obligations, it does have additional latitude to restrict access.

While it’s a freedom that City Hall eagerly awaits, it’s a concept that might hurt its proposed flight school program.

Torrance Airport is one such location with no obligations to the federal government, and therefore more flexibility to deny entry.

City officials in Torrance have already indicated that though they view their airport as an asset, they don’t enjoy the air traffic and certainly don’t want to have to deal with Santa Monica’s.

“Santa Monica Airport has training schools there, and Santa Monica Airport should be bearing the brunt of the burden,” said Frank Scotto, mayor of Torrance.

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