by Mark R. Baker
President & CEO, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
To a pilot, an airport is pretty much always a good thing. Whether you view it as a gateway to new adventures, a safe haven when the unexpected happens, or even a second home, there’s a lot to love about these open spaces in an increasingly cluttered world.
But to those who aren’t pilots and may not understand general aviation’s role, an airport can be something very different. They might see it as a source of noise or pollution. Or maybe they think of it as an “empty” space just begging to be developed. And that’s when we have conflict.
Sometimes, bridging the gap between the pilot’s perspective and the airport opponent’s perspective is fairly straightforward. Noise can often be managed with friendly flying practices. An economic impact analysis can prove the value of an airport, and so on. But sometimes, the gap is too wide, and an airport becomes the center of a fierce, long-running battle. That’s the case with Santa Monica Municipal Airport in Southern California.
For years, some in the city have been trying to close the airport. There have been lawsuits and attempts to strangle the airport, restrict operations, and more. It’s a battle that has claimed enormous resources on both sides, and it’s one AOPA has been heavily engaged in at every step along the way.
Recently, the fight over the airport has heated up again. In early July, AOPA and others, including the National Business Aviation Association, actor and pilot Harrison Ford, and other airport tenants, pilots, and businesses filed a “Part 16” complaint with the FAA.
The City of Santa Monica says it is no longer obligated to keep the airport open after next year, when it claims its federal obligations expire. But the flying community believes the airport remains under federal grant obligations through 2023.
To resolve the complaint, a senior FAA official will hear the petition and consider evidence presented by airport proponents and the city before making a finding. That decision may be appealed in federal court.
In the meantime, Santa Monica residents have filed a petition with the city to put the airport’s future to the voters. The petition, which AOPA has supported, would put an initiative on the November ballot to require voter approval before the city can make airport land available for non-aviation uses or can close or partially close the airport.
Regardless of the outcome of the Part 16 complaint and the ballot initiative, you can be sure of two things. One, the battle for the future of Santa Monica will continue. And, two, AOPA will keep fighting to keep the airport –and others like it – open for many years to come.
If you’re fortunate enough to fly at an airport that has the support of the community, I hope you’ll do your part to keep it that way by flying friendly, building goodwill, and welcoming non-pilots to experience the good things that happen at your field. If not, consider working with your local Airport Support Network volunteer to find ways to bridge the gap before it becomes a chasm and yet another airport is endangered.