Washington, DC, Sept. 27, 2016 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today welcomed prompt action by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate an attempt by the city of Santa Monica, CA to evict two of Santa Monica Municipal Airport’s (SMO) longstanding service providers, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers.
The FAA’s action follows years of debate over the airport’s future, and with several ongoing legal disputes over the city’s federally mandated requirements to operate the airport. On Aug. 23, the Santa Monica City Council passed a resolution to shut down SMO “as soon as legally permitted, with the goal of on or before July 1, 2018.” The resolution also directed city staff to replace existing fuel vendors at the airport with a “proprietary” city-operated entity, and to cease the sale of leaded aviation gasoline.
On Sept. 15, Santa Monica served 30-day notices of eviction to Atlantic Aviation, the field’s largest fixed-base operator (FBO) and its sole provider of Jet-A fuel, as well as American Flyers, a flight school and fuel provider that has operated at SMO for decades. Both FBOs immediately filed emergency requests for the FAA to halt the eviction process.
This afternoon, the FAA responded with a notice of investigation (NOI) requiring the city to explain its rationale for the evictionswithin 10 days, with a “strong” recommendation that the city halt the eviction process until the agency’s investigative process is completed. The FAA also subpoenaed city representatives to appear, in person, at an Oct. 12 agency hearing on the matter. Review the FAA’s notice of investigation. (PDF)
Stacy Howard, NBAA’s Western regional representative, noted the FAA’s response reflects concerns from industry stakeholders about the city’s actions. “While federal regulations may allow the city to operate its own FBO, Santa Monica is certainly not prepared to provide an equivalent level of service by Oct. 15,” she added. “It is also unlikely the city would ever do so in a manner beneficial to the airport and its aviation users.”
Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure stated “We urge the city to withdraw these eviction notices, as requested by the FAA, and to acknowledge its commitments to this valued airport.”
The FAA’s actions follow other challenges, presented by NBAA and other stakeholders, to the city’s repeated attempts to curtail operations at SMO and shut down the historic airfield despite its obligations under federal grant assurances to keep the airport open through 2023, and in perpetuity through a 1948 Instrument of Transfer.
A separate complaint, supported by NBAA, addresses the city’s mishandling of airport finances and failure to offer new leases to aviation-related businesses on the field. Gertsen noted the city deprives SMO of funds from previous subleases through former master tenant Gunnell Properties, following the dissolution of its agreement with Gunnell earlier this year.
“The city has since declined to charge these tenants rent,” he said. “Based on the current occupancy of the facilities, NBAA estimates that Santa Monica has failed to collect more than $1 million by refusing to offer any occupancy agreements to these existing aeronautical tenants. The city has also lost additional revenue over the same time period denying acceptance of new aeronautical tenants; taxpayers will continue to lose hundreds of thousands per month as the city maintains this stubborn practice.
“SMO is an important local and national resource, providing numerous jobs and contributing millions of dollars to Santa Monica’s economy,” Gertsen concluded. “These ill-conceived efforts to close and restrict the airport not only have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, but also have resulted in lost opportunities to work with the aviation community to ensure that the airport continues to be a good neighbor and a vibrant, irreplaceable asset.”
Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, DC, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful. The association represents more than 11,000 companies and provides more than 100 products and services to the business aviation community, including the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, the world’s largest civil aviation trade show. Learn more about NBAA at www.nbaa.org.