By Rob FinfrockCJP continues to monitor developments following an unprecedented settlement regarding the future of embattled Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) in Southern California that will ultimately close the historic field, and severely restrict jet operations until then.
Announced Saturday, January 28 and hailed by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta as an “innovative agreement” reached through “mutual cooperation between the FAA and the city,” the settlement allows Santa Monica officials to close SMO after Dec. 31, 2028 – more than 11 years from now, and five years after the city’s obligations to maintain SMO under terms of a 2003 federal grant would have expired.
However, the settlement also allows the city to immediately move to shorten the airport’s single runway to 3,500 feet, from its current length of 4,973 feet. The reduced runway length restricts SMO’s suitability for operations by turbine-powered aircraft.
“In fact, it severely limits jet operations,” said CJP Executive Director Andrew Broom. “A shorter runway at SMO means that dozens of our members based throughout Southern California will not be able to safely utilize a valued airfield in the Los Angeles basin. I find it somewhat baffling that the FAA would accept, never mind celebrate, such a compromise.”
Aviation advocacy groups and trade associations also responded to the terms of the settlement agreement, with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) calling the move to shorten SMO’s sole runway a “one-of-its-kind development.”
“We are disappointed that the government decided to settle this case, especially given that NBAA has long been committed to aggressively supporting business aviation access to SMO, through every legislative and legal channel available,” added NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “If there are further avenues available to us, we intend to explore them.”
“It is certainly a disappointing development,” Jack Pelton, President and CEO of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) said of the settlement. “While we can only guess at the inside discussions to reach this settlement as to our knowledge, the airport’s stakeholders were not a part of it, the founding principles of FAA grant assurances are to maintain stability for an airport and its users as part of the national airspace system, above local political maneuvering.”
“We are not done fighting for Santa Monica,” added Mark Baker, President and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). “We are working to learn more about the fine points of the settlement, but our main goal – to keep this airport permanently open and available to all general aviation users – remains unchanged.”
Broom welcomed those sentiments, adding that CJP will also consider its options as further details of the settlement agreement come to light. “We need to fight to keep airports like Santa Monica in our communities, as they are the backbone to our nation’s aviation infrastructure,” he concluded. “Unfortunately, today’s developments remind us all-too well of the sudden closure of Chicago’s Meigs Field in 2003, and this certainly establishes a troubling precedent for other communities that may wish to take similar actions against their hometown airports.”