by Mark R. Baker
President & CEO, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
If you live and fly anywhere near Southern California, then the saga of Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) is probably all too familiar. But no matter where you fly, this is one airport battle that deserves your attention because it has far-reaching implications for some 200 airports nationwide, almost certainly including some near you.
The fight over Santa Monica has been going on for decades between those who value the airport and want to see it thrive, and those who would like to see it closed for good. Over the years, the arguments and tactics have changed, but the underlying facts have not, and AOPA has committed countless man-hours and resources to protecting the field.
The current lawsuit brought by the City of Santa Monica, focuses primarily on real estate issues. But AOPA and NBAA recently teamed up to make sure the court doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. In a friend of the court brief filed in February, the two aviation associations put the significance of what’s happening at SMO into context and expressed their support for an FAA motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The airport and the property it sits on were deeded to the city by the federal government after World War II on the condition that the city would continue to operate the site as an airport. At least 200 other airports have similar agreements with the federal government. If the City of Santa Monica is allowed to close the airport, then others could face an equally grim fate despite their importance to the national transportation system and the communities they serve.
The airports operating under these federal agreements include some of the biggest and busiest in the nation, like Los Angeles International and Chicago O’Hare. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that opening the door to prolonged and costly battles over these airports, and the property where they sit, could devastate the national air transportation system.
In the case of Santa Monica Airport, closure could create significant safety and congestion problems for air traffic locally, with ripple effects being felt nationwide. Santa Monica is an important reliever for LAX and hosts more than 102,000 operations each year, an average of 280 per day. Airports in the region are already crowded, so it would be tough for other fields to absorb those operations.
The brief filed by AOPA and NBAA stresses that the airport is also an important economic engine for Santa Monica and the surrounding area, hosting some 175 businesses and creating 1500 jobs with an estimated economic output of $275 million a year.
Like Santa Monica, many airports are under pressure from cities and towns that have grown up around them. We can’t afford to lose this important public asset not only because of the airport’s intrinsic value, but because of what its loss could mean to general aviation airports everywhere.