An aviation industry group has petitioned a US federal appeals court to review a settlement agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration and the city of Santa Monica, permitting the Californian city to shut down its municipal airport in 2029.
In a petition to the US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit, the National Business Aviation Association, which is advised by Zuckert Scoutt & Rasenberger, said the settlement agreement unfairly restricts aviation access across California and the US. The agreement, which was confirmed on 28 January, settled a long-running dispute about control of the airport.
As part of the settlement, the FAA and Santa Monica agreed that the airport could close after 31 December 2028. In the meantime, the city of Santa Monica is allowed to reduce the airport’s existing operations by shortening its runway to 3,500 feet.
The NBAA, together with a coalition of local businesses and interest groups, four of whom are tenants at the airport, claimed in the petition that the settlement unjustly releases the city of Santa Monica from its airport operating obligations, warning that the decision runs “contrary to statute, regulation and policy”.
“NBAA remains committed to aggressively supporting unrestricted business aviation access to SMO [Santa Monica Airport], through this petition and other available channels,” Ed Bolen, NBAA’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.
“Santa Monica's airport is a vital asset to our aviation system, both locally as well as nationally, and serves as a critical transportation lifeline for the entire Los Angeles basin.”
The settlement marked the end of a decades-long legal dispute about the future of the airport between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica, which has long complained that the airport is unsafe, noisy and bad for the environment.
The FAA and other aviation groups had opposed the city’s attempts to shut down the airport. They argued that the original federal transfer instrument that returned control of the airport to the city in 1948 required it to remain open until 2023, if not in perpetuity.
FAA administrator Michael Huerta described the settlement as an innovative solution that successfully resolves the longstanding legal and regulatory dispute.
Challenges to agency decisions regularly go straight to an appeals court, which has a non-discretionary duty to hear the review. The court will now set a schedule for the parties to raise their substantive arguments, before inviting oral arguments.
The NBAA and the other complainant groups will need to show that the FAA exceeded its authority, or its discretion, when entering into the settlement agreement.
Counsel to the National Business Aviation Association
Zuckert Scoutt & Rasenberger
Partner Jol A Silversmith in Washington, DC