One of the country’s most storied airports, Santa Monica Municipal Airport, shows what a battle it can be to close an airport even if residents and city officials think it’s a good idea.
Santa Monica is one of the few general aviation airports in the United States surrounded on all sides by dense residential development – it was the home of Douglas Aircraft Co., and the first houses that went up near the airfield were for Douglas employees. Industrial and office buildings followed, and more homes were built at both ends of the runway.
Beginning in the 1980s, Santa Monica tried intermittently to shut the airport because of complaints about noise and claims that the close-in housing made the airport dangerous. The attempts failed, but the city has curtailed jet operations with rules such as a curfew against takeoffs between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Other would-be restrictions have been blocked. A court in 2011 rejected Santa Monica’s attempt to ban jets with fast landing speeds, saying that would illegally discriminate against aircraft types.
In the latest skirmish, a judge in February threw out the city’s attempt to wrest control of the facility from the federal government. Santa Monica officials had sued last fall, challenging a 1948 agreement that transferred ownership of the facility from the federal government back to the city after World War II on the condition it remain an airport.
U.S. District Judge John Walters said the city’s action was brought too late under the statute of limitations.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie says Santa Monica is evaluating its options in the wake of the judge’s ruling.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is working to sustain the strength of hundreds of the nation’s 5,000 general aviation airports. Santa Monica is the biggest battle, spokeswoman Katie Pribyl said. The organization said closing the Santa Monica airport might lead to a push to close other airports that were returned to local governments after World War II.
“The AOPA has vowed to fight this with all the resources we have,” Pribyl said.