Saturday, September 17, 2016

Santa Monica Airport tenants file new complaint over leases

The Santa Monica Airport is the subject of another legal dispute.

Atlantic Aviation has filed a new Part 16 complaint against the city alleging the city is in violation of its federal mandates due to its ongoing attempts to close the airport and specifically a decision to deny long-term leases to aviation tenants.

Disputes over airport operations are governed by a specific set of rules that require complaints to be heard by the Federal Aviation Administration. Pending the outcome of an FAA decision, the ruling can be appealed through the federal court system.

The new complaint alleges the city has violated a requirement to “make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination” because leases are not available to some kinds of businesses.

City Hall chose not to provide leases to aviation tenants and Atlantic contents that failing to provide long-term leases to aviation tenants amounts so discrimination.

“First, the City’s refusal to offer the Complainant any written leasing agreement, much less a lease of appropriate duration, is patently unreasonable,” said the letter sent to the FAA. “By refusing to extend any aviation leases, and by refusing to offer Complainant a lease on reasonable terms, the City has contravened its federal obligations.”

The letter also states the city’s plans to take over operations from Atlantic will result in illegal behavior aimed at closing the airport.

Earlier this year, Council passed a resolution calling for closure of the airport by 2018, directing staff to begin planning for a park on the site and authorizing a city takeover of private airport services such as those provided by Atlantic. The City has said it plans to restrict fuel sales to unleaded gas and bio-fuels. Atlantic’s complaint claims that decision discriminates against pilots because many planes require leaded fuel and the supply of bio-fuel is limited.

“If the City is permitted to take over Complainant’s fixed base operation (FBO) at SMO, as it has resolved to do, it will do all it can to minimize air traffic by limiting fuel sales to commercially-infeasible fuels and by offering substandard services and inconvenient hours,” said the letter.

Atlantic is requesting an expedited hearing in light of the City’s recent actions. City Hall sent asked Atlantic, and a second company, to vacate the airport on Sept. 15.

City Hall sent Notices to Vacate to Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers Flight School. Both companies were given 30 days to vacate their locations. The notices were signed by City Manager Rick Cole.

In an email, Senior Advisor to the City Manager Nelson Hernandez said the FAA has long allowed municipalities to takeover operations such as fuel sales and hanger leases currently provided by companies like Atlantic.

“Apparently Atlantic Aviation believes it has a right to be an FBO at Santa Monica, thus essentially using our land as an active jetport for their private profit,” he said.

City Hall is involved in several ongoing disputes over airport operations including other Part 16 hearings and a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit covers fundamental control of the airport property. The City has sued the FAA to determine if the City is legally required to operate an airport in perpetuity. That case is proceeding to trial.

The City is also appealing a different Part 16 complaint that also address the city’s ability to close the airport.

According to a ruling by the FAA, Santa Monica must keep the airport open until at least 2023. Local officials have said they have had the ability to close the airport since 2014. The FAA has ruled against the city and an appeal has been filed in federal court.

According to the FAA, their goal is to issue determinations within six months of receiving a complaint, however the total volume of complaints and the complexity of the issues involved can impact the time it takes to render a decision.


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