It isn’t over yet: Aviation interests seek federal court review of deal to close Santa Monica Airport

A private jet comes in for a landing at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, which is scheduled to close at the end of 2028.
A private jet comes in for a landing at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, which is scheduled to close at the end of 2028.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The decades-long battle over the fate of Santa Monica Municipal Airport isn’t over.

A group of aviation interests on Monday asked a federal appeals court to review a recent agreement between Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration to shorten the runway immediately and close the embattled facility at the end of 2028.

In an attempt to keep the airport open, the National Business Aviation Assn., the Santa Monica Airport Assn. and four airport tenants requested a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which handles cases involving federal agencies.

“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,” said Ed Bolen, the business association’s president and chief executive officer.

Santa Monica’s airport is a vital asset .... and serves as a critical transportation lifeline for the entire Los Angeles Basin.

— Ed Bolen, National Business Aviation Assn. president and CEO


“NBAA remains committed to aggressively supporting unrestricted business aviation access to Santa Monica Airport through this petition and other available channels,” he said.

The FAA and City Council agreed last month that the historic airport can be closed on Dec. 31, 2028, and the 4,973-foot runway could be shortened immediately to 3,500 feet, a move that could cut jet operations substantially. City officials have said they plan to reduce the runway in three months.

The agreement settled all litigation between the city and FAA, and held out the real possibility that the bitter fight over the future of the airport would end.

However, Bolen contended that the FAA’s “seeming acquiescence to a vocal minority of Santa Monica residents” represented “a one-of-a-kind development that would severely restrict aviation access throughout Southern California and across the U.S.”

FAA officials declined to comment, stating that they do not publicly discuss pending litigation. Only Michael Huerta, the agency’s top administrator, is named in the petition at this time.

Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer called the appeal a “desperate move” by an organization that represents an elite few who benefit from the airport at the expense of the community’s health and safety.

“Closing the airport is what our residents voted for and it will close forever on Dec. 31, 2028,” Winterer said. “The agreement between the city and the FAA is fair and final.”

Joining the petition were four airport tenants, Bill’s Air Center Inc., Kim Davidson Aviation Inc., Redgate Partners LLC and Wonderful Citrus LLC.

Bolen said city officials have repeatedly attempted to curtail access to the airport by aviation users and other stakeholders in violation of various federal agreements dating back to the 1948 instrument of transfer that returned control of the former military airfield back to the city.

Meanwhile, the NBAA continues to pursue a separate complaint to the FAA, which alleges that the city imposed illegal landing fees, diverted airport funds to non-aviation uses and set unfair leasing policies to force out aeronautical tenants.

Also involved in the so-called Part 16 complaint are the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., Kim Davidson Aviation, Bill’s Air Center and Mark Smith, a local pilot and aircraft owner.

Another lawsuit brought against Santa Monica by two airport businesses, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, will be dropped, said David Shaby, an attorney in the civil case. He added that the city has agreed to drop its eviction actions against the companies and grant them leases.

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