The Basics

Q. Who owns the Santa Monica Airport?
The City of Santa Monica is the Airport property-owner. The City has owned the property continuously since 1926, when Santa Monica voters approved a bond measure to purchase the land. Since the original tract of land was purchased in 1926 the City has added several other tracts to the Airport over the years.

Q. What is “fractional aircraft ownership,” and why is that important to know?
Like a timeshare, fractional aircraft ownership is when multiple owners share the costs of purchasing, leasing and operating the aircraft. Commercial programs for large fractional aircraft ownership schemes include: NetJets, Flexjet, Flight Options, PlaneSense, Executive AirShare, AirSprint and Autumn Air. Fractional jet operations have transformed business jet operations across the country, and is a major reason for escalated jet operations at SMO.

Q. What is a Fixed Based Operator?
A fixed base operator (FBO) is a public agency, or private commercial business, granted the right by an airport owner, to operate on the airport and provide aeronautical services, such as fueling, repairs, aircraft storage, either in hangars or tie-down parking.

Q. How many FBOs are on the Airport?
Two. American Flyers and Atlantic Aviation.

Q. Is the City considering running a municipal FBO?
Yes. On August 23, the City Council adopted a policy that directs the City Manager to establish a municipal FBO as soon as is feasible. Click here to read it.

Q. Will the FAA permit the City to operate an FBO service?
Yes. FAA regulations permit cities to operate FBOs, provided the operation is done with city employees and resources. It is legally permissible, and there are other examples of city-run FBOs, like the City of Naples, Florida. As part of our due diligence, staff will examine issues related to: fuel farm operations, employee recruitment, training and retention, equipment, costs and revenue, and liability.

Q. What will happen to the two FBOs that currently provide services when the City assumes the responsibility?
Their right to provide FBO services will be terminated when the City is prepared to commence its own FBO services.

Q. Why can’t the City just close the Airport?
The City cannot unilaterally close the Airport at this time. The City is fighting, in court, to effectuate its right, as land owner, to control use of the land; and the Council has resolved to close the Airport when legally possible.

Legal Questions

Q. There are several lawsuits involving the Airport that affect the City’s ability to close the Airport. Can you explain the cases and their status?
The City is involved in two legal proceedings that have material effects on when the City can close the airport. 1. Instrument of Transfer. First, the federal lawsuit clarifying the effect of the Instrument of Transfer (IOT) is hugely determinative. The IOT provided the mechanism by which the Federal Government (a) surrendered the land it leased from the City and, (b) transferred the buildings and improvements on the leased land to the City after using it during World War II. The FAA claims the 1948 IOT requires the City to operate the airport in perpetuity; the City rejects this FAA claim. That trial is scheduled to start August 2017. Earlier this year, the City won a preliminary victory in this case when the 9th District Circuit Court of Appeals determined the facts of the case are so intertwined, that the Court could not separate the statute of limitations from the merits of the case, and so a trial was warranted. The Court of Appeals returned the case to District Court and ordered the case be tried on its merits. 2. Part 16: The second case is a Part 16 FAA administrative proceeding. This case involves the exact date when Federal grant obligations expire and Santa Monica is free from having to comply with key federal regulations regarding the Airport. The City argues that these obligations expired in 2014 but the FAA claims the obligations remain valid until 2023. On August 15, 2016, as expected, the Associate Director for Airports, upheld the previous FAA determination. On August 24th, the City filed its notice of appeal of the FAA determination in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Q. Does the City contract with outside legal counsel who are experts in aviation law? 
A. Yes. The City has two outside firms that provide representation to the City in the ongoing cases and work with the City Attorney’s office. One firm, Anderson Krieger, specializes exclusively in aviation law. The other firm, Morrison and Foerster, is a full-service, international firm, specializing in litigation. The partners working on are case are experts in aviation law, land use, and trial and appellate work. 

Meanwhile, Problems Continue… 

Q. How many planes are based at Santa Monica Airport? 
A. Approximately 300. 

Q. Is airport traffic up or down at Santa Monica? 
A. Aircraft operations have been trending down at Santa Monica over the last 20 years. Check out the graph below: 

Annual Total Operations Graph

Q. What is an aircraft operation? How many are there at SMO per year? 
A. An “aircraft operation” means either a departure, or an arrival. In 2015, there were about 85,000 aircraft operations out of SMO. 

Q. Is jet traffic on the rise at SMO? 
A. Yes. Over the last 20 years jet traffic has increased dramatically. Jet traffic now constitutes 22% of total aircraft operations.

Annual Jet Operation Graph

Q. Has the City attempted to ban jet aircraft in the past? 
A. Yes. In 2008 the City adopted an ordinance banning Category C and D aircrafts. Category C and D are, generally speaking, large jets, e.g. Gulf Stream IV or other aircraft that weigh up to 75,000 lbs. The FAA blocked the ordinance by securing an injunction in federal court. 

Q. In the past have the City and FAA entered into agreements to settle legal disputes? 
A. Yes. For instance, in 1981, the City Council adopted Resolution 6296 declaring its intention to close the Airport when legally permissible. After a series of lawsuits and negotiations, FAA and the City reached a comprehensive settlement. “The 1984 Agreement” recognized the City’s authority to mitigate aircraft noise, impose curfew limits, ban helicopter training, limit the number of aircraft tie-downs, and remove certain land on the south side of the airport from aviation use. In return, the City agreed to: operate the airport until June 30, 2015; and permit fixed base operators (FBOs) to serve passengers, service and maintain aircraft, and sell lead fuel and jet fuel. 

Q. Is the 1984 settlement in effect? 
A. No. The settlement term ended June 30, 2015. 

Q. Is it true the Airport fund was in the negative and had to borrow money from the City’s general fund? 
A. Yes. The Airport Fund owes the City’s General Fund approximately $10 million. The Airport Fund has been repaying the General Fund approximately $600,000 annually but in Fiscal Year 2015-16, the payment increased to $1,200,000. 

Q. What types of fuel do the different types of aircraft use at SMO? 
A. There are two types of fuel sold at Santa Monica Airport: Low lead 100, and Jet-A. Jet aircrafts use Jet-A. Traditional propeller aircrafts use leaded fuel. 

Q. Lead is a toxic. Why not ban it from the Airport? 
A. The City is dedicated to phasing out the sale of lead fuel. Unlike jet aircrafts, piston aircraft utilize leaded fuel. For nearly 25 years, California has banned lead as an additive for automobile fuel because of its toxic effects on humans, particularly children. Despite the known dangers of leaded fuel and there being a viable alternative, the FAA has yet to phase it out. Because there is a viable alternative that could service an estimated 65% of the propeller aircraft fleet based in SMO, the sale of leaded fuel will be phased out completely, as soon as is legally permissible. In place of leaded fuel, the City intends to offer unleaded fuel. 

Q. Has an aircraft ever crashed at SMO? 
A. Yes, a number—and too not long ago. For example, on September 29, 2013. At 6:20 pm, the jet veered off the right side of runway 21 at SMO, colliding with a hangar. The private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed a post-crash fire. 

What the City is Doing In the Meantime: 

Q. Did the City Council vote to close the Airport on August 23? 
A. The Council adopted a resolution, calling for SMO to close as soon as is legally permissible, or by June 30, 2018. The resolution also directs the City Manager to implement a series of measures intended to reduce the adverse impacts of Airport operations on the community and those surrounding it. Click here to read the resolution. 

Q. What is the City doing to reduce the adverse impacts of the Airport’s operations? 
A. The City Council is committed to reducing and eventually eliminating all the adverse impact of the Airport forces on the community. For example, the Council adopted an Airport leasing policy that permits only uses that are compatible with the surrounding community. The Council authorized the purchase of new and improved noise monitoring equipment, in order to ensure violators are detected. Finally, the Council has directed staff to phase out leaded fuel as quickly as possible. 

Q. Does Santa Monica Airport have a flight curfew, curbing flights during the night? 
A. Yes. Santa Monica prohibits departures from 11pm to 7am. 

Q. Does Santa Monica have an ordinance against excessive noise? 
A. Yes, Santa Monica has a noise ordinance. Any aircraft that exceeds 95 decibels violates the noise ordinance. For an initial violation: a warning. For subsequent violations: violators must pay $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, face suspension and debarment. 

Q. How many noise violations occur at the Airport annually? 
A. Last year there were 162 and 92% of the violators were jets. The chart below shows the results for the last five years: 

Annual Noise Violations Graph

Q. I heard that if the Airport closes the land be developed into high-rise condos, office towers and other commercial uses. Is that correct? 
A. No. What you heard is deliberate misinformation from the aviation special interest that want to scare residents with the threat of development. As is clearly stated in the resolution, the City Manager has been directed to begin the park planning and environmental analysis work required to transition the land from Airport, to recreational park. Read the resolution for yourself and you will see that the direction from the Council is very clear: to start planning a park that is consistent with Measure LC. 

Q. How many acres of park are there on Airport property today? 
A. 8 acres. The City is preparing in the process of adding 12 more acres bring the total to 20.

Q. Is there an Airport Commission? 
A. Yes. The Airport Commission meets the fourth Monday of every month at 7:00 pm at the City Council Chambers, located at 1685 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405. 

Economic Impact 

Q. Will the closure of SMO result in the loss of $270 million and 1500 jobs in economic impact? 
A. No. Aviation lobbyists always cite these numbers from one of the City’s economic studies when referring to the economic impact of the SMO airport. However, these Aviation Lobbyists are deceptively combining both “aviation” plus “non-aviation” economic activity. For example, the study clearly stated that 178 jobs were aviation-related out of a total of 1,487 jobs, yet the Aviation Lobbyists cite the 1,487 jobs. The City clarified that the economic impact of aviation activity on the land is similar to a “medium-sized strip mall.” See – 

Q. I hear from aviation supporters that the City makes lots of money from the airport, is that correct?
A. No it is not accurate. The Airport was operating in deficit for many years. The Airport operating deficit forced the City (Santa Monica taxpayers) to lend the Airport nearly $13M. The Airport is now on a path toward self-sufficiency and repayment of past debt obligations. The exact amount of the debt is a matter being disputed between the City and FAA. Although no agreement has been reached yet, we can say the final debt obligation will be many multiple of millions of dollars.

Environmental Impacts 

Q. Aren’t SMO’s negative impacts limited to the few neighbors who live around the airport? 
A. No. The noise, pollution, and dangers impact over 130,000 residents within a 2-3 mile radius of the Santa Monica Airport. 1,800 documented complaints by residents were presented to the FAA by Congressional Representatives in July 2015. A partial sample of the residents’ geographic locations are shown on this map below. See –

LAX Traffic 

Q. Will the closure of SMO result in LAX air traffic skimming low over Santa Monica and the Westside of Los Angeles? 
A. No. Commercial aircraft flying to LAX from the north pass over Santa Monica at about 7,000 feet on their landing approach. Why this altitude? The reason is NOT to avoid SMO airspace, which is classified as Class D and has a top elevation of only 2,500 feet. The reason is because of (1) the aircraft’s Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) and (2) its landing path which is driven by the east-west orientation of the LAX runways. See –