Are airports in peril, either from owners that want to privatize them or municipalities that want to shut them down?


The NBAA’s Steve Brown, vice president, operations, has some good news and some bad news. First, the good: “The predominant case is that, increasingly, as our national focus in job creation, growth and the quality of life moves outside metropolitan areas, local governments are very supportive of their airports and want to invest in them to encourage local growth and support the economy and employment.”

Now, the bad: “There are a number of cases where the opposite is true, and the poster case for that is Santa Monica [SMO], where the elected officials of the day have sufficient pressure on their resources — schools, roads, other infrastructure — to invest in other places. So then it becomes a priority for politicians to find the funding.” That financial pressure tends to coalesce much more in metropolitan areas than in rural ones. And one perceived solution to resolving it in Santa Monica has been to close the Southern California airport, which the city has been trying to do for years, attempting to bar access by aviation users to the facility and tormenting long-term leaseholders and tenants.

“In Santa Monica’s case, the FAA decided it was AIP grant-obligated to remain open until 2023,” Brown said. So, acting on behalf of the FAA, the federal Department of Justice took the city to court, arguing that the airport must be operated in perpetuity under the requirements of the Surplus Property Act whereby the field was transferred to the city in 1948.

However, in January, the city and the FAA reached a controversial settlement that would keep the airport open to business and general aviation until 2028.

But as part of the agreement, the city can bulldoze 1,473 ft. of SMO’s single runway, reducing its length to 3,500 ft., thereby eliminating its use by most business jets.

“There are dozens of business aircraft based there,” Brown said, “plus a fight school, maintenance providers and two FBOs.” Obviously, the NBAA isn’t satisfied with this outcome, as the association’s president, Ed Bolen, stated: “We are disappointed that the government decided to settle this case, especially given that the NBAA has long been committed to aggressively supporting business aviation access to SMO, through every legislative and legal channel available.”

But the fight isn’t over, Bolen suggested, adding that “If there are further avenues available to us, we intend to explore them.” The NBAA has also gone on record that the settlement doesn’t resolve allegations by it and other airport proponents that the city has mishandled airport finances, as well as landing fees, “in part by continued failure to offer leases to longstanding aviation-related businesses on the field.”