The Fight for Santa Monica Airport - A Timeline

"The Spirit of Santa Monica," was donated to the city by the Museum of Flying and was fully restored, and is on display at the Santa Monica Airport. The monument stands as a tribute to the legendary aircraft builder Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. and the company he founded, Douglas Aircraft Company – the city’s largest employer for 50 years. This photo can be found among many others at the Santa Monica Airport website.

Recent events regarding the future of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) have played out across the news and websites of aviation organizations NBAA, AOPA and FAA. I went back in the archives of online news reports to build a timeline of events that have led to the recent federal court’s ruling.


June 2, 2011 - The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today welcomed an announcement that City of Santa Monica officials would not contest a federal court's ruling that the city could not ban "Category C and D" aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO). The council's announcement, made earlier this week, follows a January 21 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in favor of a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the city's most recent attempt to ban the aircraft amounted to "unjust and unreasonable" discrimination and violated the terms of a grant agreement for accepting federal funds for the airport.

The controversy dates to 2008, when Santa Monica city officials adopted a ban against the Category C and D jets from serving SMO, on alleged safety grounds.The city's move was immediately challenged by the FAA, which ruled that the airport did not have the authority to impose the ban, and disallowed it from taking effect until the FAA could further consider the matter, with a decision from the agency being subject to a federal court appeal. Link to Details


May 7, 2013 - The Santa Monica City Council directed city staff to continue exploring options for the future of the Santa Monica Airport, including the possible impacts of a partial or complete closure. In a unanimous vote, council members voted to focus on finding ways to reduce airport noise, air pollution and safety risks through revised leasing policies, voluntary agreements and restrictions. City staff were also directed to continue to assess the potential risks and benefits of a full or partial closure of the airport.

Early on in the meeting, City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie outlined the city's legal options in the exploration of the future of the Santa Monica Airport. She said city staff met with representatives from the FAA to convey community sentiment about noise, safety and air quality, but did not reach a deal. Moutrie said the city owns the airport, but the city's choices are limited by federal law and several agreements, adding that the FAA has both legislative and judicial powers. The city believes its agreement with the FAA expires in 2015, while the FAA maintains the date is 2023. Link to Details


September 29, 2013 - A Cessna Citation CJ2 veered off the right side of Runway 21 after landing at Santa Monica (Calif.) Airport at 6:20 p.m. PDT. The twinjet struck a hangar and was destroyed by fire. The pilot of the plane that crashed at Santa Monica Airport, killing all four people aboard, reported no problems prior to the landing, and the plane's tires were fully inflated, despite early speculation that a blown tire may have sent the aircraft careening into a hangar, according to a preliminary report. The hangar collapsed onto the plane, which had taken off from Hailey, Idaho.

"Witnesses reported observing the airplane make a normal approach and landing," according to the NTSB report. "The airplane traveled down the right side of the runway, eventually veering off the runway, impacted the 1,000-foot runway distance remaining sign, continued to travel in a right-hand turn and impacted a hangar structural post with the right wing. The airplane came to rest inside the hangar and the damage to the hangar structure caused the roof to collapse onto the airplane. A post-accident fire quickly ensued.'' Link to Details


October 31, 2013 - In the wake of September's deadly jet crash, Santa Monica officials sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday to gain control of the city's embattled airport, which local groups want to turn into a park. Filed in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles, the lawsuit seeks a declaration that the city holds clear title to the 227 acres containing the oldest continuously operating airport in the county. It also challenges the constitutionality of a 1948 agreement between the city and federal authorities that requires the historic property and its 5,000-foot runway to remain an airport in perpetuity or be returned at the option of the FAA to the U.S. government.

If the city is successful, there is concern among aviation organizations that it might alter the status of former military airports around the nation and encourage attempts to close some of them.

FAA officials declined to comment, saying that as a matter of policy they do not discuss pending litigation. The agency's long-held position is that the city must operate the airport through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal airport improvement grants. The FAA also has asserted that Santa Monica is further obligated to keep the airport open well beyond 2023 because it acquired the much improved airfield after World War II under terms of the federal Surplus Property Act. FAA officials have said in the past that they are committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping the airport open. Link to Details


Feb. 10, 2014 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) today joined in filing a brief of amicus curiae supporting a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) motion to dismiss the latest effort to close the historic airfield.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen called the battle over SMO a "bellwether moment" in preserving other vital general aviation (GA) airfields across the country. "Santa Monica's latest attempt to close its community airport carries very serious ramifications for the continued viability of our nation's general aviation airports," he added. "It is imperative that the FAA maintain jurisdiction over SMO, and other essential airports that our Members rely upon for convenient access to communities across the United States."

The FAA countered last month that any questions over which entity holds the title to SMO must be settled under terms of the Quiet Title Act, which requires such lawsuits to be filed within 12 years following learning of the federal government’s interest in the property. That first occurred, the agency asserted, when both parties agreed in August 1948 to return control of the airfield to the city. Link to Details


Feb. 13, 2014 - A federal judge ruled in favor of the position advocated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), namely that the city’s challenge to the requirement that Santa Monica Airport (SMO) continue to be a publicly-accessible airport was untimely. Link to Details


Mar. 25, 2014 - Marsha Moutrie, City Attorney, and Martin Pastucha, Director of Public Works for the City of Santa Monica, prepared a report that offered several options to restrict operations at SMO. Recommended option included directing staff to begin positioning the City for possible closure of all or part of the Santa Monica Airport ("Airport") after July 1, 2015, including, for instance, by preparing a preliminary conceptual plan for a smaller airport that excludes the Airport's western parcel and by preparing preliminary work plans for environmental assessment. The CA City Council voted 6 to 0 to pursue further restrictions. Link to Report Details

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen replied, "It is clear that, despite a significant, recent legal setback, the council has voted to renew its efforts to restrict services at an important general aviation airport," Bolen said. "For decades, NBAA and others in the general aviation community have fought to preserve access to this airport, in the face of ongoing opposition by the city council. This is a battle we must and will continue to fight." Read the complete response from the NBAA at this Link to Details


For a more detailed overall history of the airport, check out their history page here.