[KSMO]: Grossly Incompatible with the Community Around It

It has been a busy Fall at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO], where FAA is flexing its administrative-legal muscles, intervening to delay city efforts to evict two private operators. The City wants to take over fuel sales and other airport services (known as ‘FBO services’), but the private FBOs do not want to accept that their leases are expired, nor do they want to give up lucrative profits. Just like FAA does not want to adhere to the agreement they struck with the city, in 1984, which meant the city could outright close the airport in July 2015.

In a recent email, Nelson Hernandez, the Senior Advisor to the Santa Monica City Manager, offered yet another update on the city’s progress. He noted that, “…on August 23, Council directed the City Manager to establish a city-owned FBO by December 31, or as soon as practicable….” He then added, there is ample precedent for airport authorities (in this case, the City of Santa Monica) setting up their own FBO services at an airport, instead of letting an out-of-state operator reap the hefty profits. He noted three airports: “…in the last two years, Fort Wayne, Greenville, and Chattanooga, created their own City FBO for similar financial reasons….” He was referring to airports in Fort Wayne, IN [KFWA], Greenville, NC [KPGV], and Knoxville, TN [KDKX].

Out of curiosity, I did some online research and confirmed that, yes, all three of these airports have city-operated FBOs. And, all three appear to be very healthy airports. Nelson’s list of three airports included one with an FAA control tower [KFWA] and two with no control tower [KPGV] and [KDKX]). Here’s the data on these three airports, with [KSMO] added for comparison:

    • KFWA: 70 based aircraft, a 12,000ft runway and an 8,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 36,100 landings and takeoffs in 2015, down 71% from its peak year (124,000 ops in 2000). [3,400 acres, surrounded by farmland]
    • KPGV: 71 based aircraft, a 7,200ft runway, and a 5,000ft runway. Form 5010 shows 48,200 annual operations in the year ending 5/30/2016 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [872 acres, surrounded by forest, farmland and limited residential development]
    • KDKX: 167 based aircraft, and a single, 3,500ft runway. Form 5010 shows 68,400 annual operations in the year ending 4/30/2013 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [200 acres, surrounded by a river, a large quarry, and farmland]
    • KSMO: 249 based aircraft, and a single 5,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 90,200 annual operations in 2015, down 62% from its peak year (234,800 ops in 1991). [215 acres, surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods; and, within the airport, substantial footage is presently subleased to non-aviation business uses, generating profits for the FBOs.]

I noticed something else, too, which was a bit startling. You’ll see it starkly presented in the three image-pairs below. When you look at how Santa Monica’s runway is shoe-horned into the neighborhoods, and when you compare it to the ‘airport normality’ of these other three, far less crowded airport locations, it just jumps out at you. And, when you look at the series of images showing how many houses were removed in recent years for a runway expansion at a very slow Greenville airport, you just have to wonder how in the world people can coexist with business jets so close to their Santa Monica homes. I mean, if FAA moves people out of their homes in Greenville, what is it about Santa Monica homeowners that makes them less at risk than North Carolinians? And given that there are so many Santa Monica homes, would it not make the most sense to simply close the airport??

Clearly, each of these three airports is far more compatibly located than is the Santa Monica Airport. In fact, looking at these three, I just have to say: if I was the new FAA Administrator, I’d be quick to ask my new highly-paid subordinates:

“Why are we NOT working with the city to expedite closing this airport? After all, it is grossly incompatible with the community (look at all those houses, and so close to the runway!), it is clearly a health hazard, and we have plenty of other LA Basin airports and longer, safer runways to serve the business jets and general aviation, all of which are far below their historic high traffic levels. So, when are we going to start serving everyone, not just our buddies who employ us after we retire?”




UPDATE, 12/6/2016: — per a request, click here for a PDF version of this entire Post.

WTO Finding: Boeing’s 777 Project was Illegally Subsidized by State Legislature

LeehamNews.com does a great job covering the commercial aviation manufacturing industry, especially the often complex politics surrounding Boeing in the U.S. versus Airbus in the E.U. The latest blogpost, ‘Airbus, Boeing claim victory in today’s WTO ruling over Washington State tax breaks’, goes deep into the WTO panel report that was just issued today: ‘Dispute Settlement – Dispute DS487, United States — Conditional Tax Incentives for Large Civil Aircraft’. Essentially, WTO found Boeing’s 777 project was illegally subsidized by tax incentives created by the state legislature, in House Bill ESSB 5952. That legislation, passed in November 2013, was aimed at securing local jobs, thus improperly favoring the local economy.

This subject area is a bit off-topic for aiREFORM but worth archiving here, as it sheds further light on the extent of subsidy that props up aviation. We often hear that airports and aviation are huge catalysts for local economic development. Well, it turns out, this line is just more spin to dupe elected officials and citizens into accepting the latest aviation development scheme. In most examples, subsidies such as the huge tax reductions and tax credits given to Boeing, come with substantial costs elsewhere. Two key areas where the costs are transferred elsewhere:

  1. somebody has to pay the taxes that are excused when legislators offer sweet deals to large corporations; that burden falls more heavily on the regular Joe taxpayers, the ones raising families, for example.
  2. when jobs are sucked up into concentrated mega-factories, like the new wing production plant in Everett (at KPAE), those jobs no longer exist dispersed over numerous smaller communities. Time and again, those small communities start to shut down and become economic wastelands with relic facilities now standing silent.

When viewed objectively the ‘net economic benefit’ becomes just a wash, really nothing to get excited about.

Much like our federal laws have enabled banks to concentrate and become ‘too big to fail’, laws related to aviation have enabled airlines, airports, and manufacturers to concentrate, becoming ‘too big to function without imposing excessive impacts’. These impacts need to be objectively addressed, not glossed over because they do not conform to a propaganda campaign. Congress has failed us big time, these past few decades, and the trend does not look promising.

UPDATE, 11/29/2016: — Two months ago, WTO made a similar finding, but precisely opposite, finding illegal subsidies of Airbus by the EU. There is an apparent history of legal busy-bodies doing a huge amount of work and rendering critical decisions, but in the end taking no real action to change anything. This pattern is much like we see with FAA’s faux-regulation of aviation interests.
The documentation is deep, but a fascinating read. There is much to be learned about the politics (and complete absence of free and open markets) in aviation, by looking at related articles and past WTO actions. See, for example:
  • 9/22/2016 – a 574-page report issued by WTO, in response to the United States’ complaint against the European Union (EU)
  • 9/22/2016 – 154-page Addendum to the above report. See in particular the Executive Summaries submitted by the two parties.
  • 9/22/2016 – LeehamNews Post summarizing the report issued by WTO.
  • 11/29/2016 – 154-page Addendum to the above report. See in particular the Executive Summaries submitted by the two parties.

KSMO: City Moving Forward on Evictions of Main FBOs – Atlantic Aviation & American Flyers

“…This morning the City filed unlawful detainer actions against Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. As you know, both companies were given 30 day notices to vacate on September 15; both failed to vacate by the required date of October 15. Please see the attached press release for more detailed information….”

– Nelson Hernandez, Senior Advisor to the City Manager

Click here for further info (archived copy of the City’s news release)

Santa Monica Airport: One Step Closer to Local Control

KSMO.20160516.. Press Release re 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to remand (1p)It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. And, it is common (even more so, these days?) for the status quo to delay EVERYTHING for the simple reason that it perpetuates their advantaged position. So, in a situation such as the decades-old fight for local control of their airport, the people of Santa Monica just have to keep on keepin’ on.

Nearly three years ago, the City of Santa Monica filed a lawsuit seeking to establish the right to control the local airport. FAA (and the federal Department of Justice) fought back and successfully convinced a District Court Judge to kick the can down the road. Now, more than two years further along (and still no relief from jet fumes, leaded fuel, and noise), the City has prevailed in an appeal, and the Judge’s February 2014 decision has been ruled improper.

Yesterday, the people scored a small victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued their decision, remanding a case back to the District Court. Here is a link to an aiREFORM page with a transcript of the March 11th arguments, and below is a copy of the 7-page ‘Memorandum’ outlining the decision:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

See also:

[QUOTE]: NBAA’s Scare Tactics at Santa Monica



“…If the one percent are denied the perks and privileges they’ve got used to, including Santa Monica’s airport, they’ll strike back at the most basic services its citizens rely on. We’ll see how the Council responds to this threat on March 22nd…..”

– Gavin Scott, in a March 5th video update at Airport2Park.org

On February 5, 2016, the primary lobbyist for U.S. business jet operators, NBAA.org, filed yet another Part 16 complaint at FAA. This is part of the ongoing delay tactics used by FAA and aviation interests  – aka, the Av-Gov Complex – to thwart local citizen efforts to manage their local airports. In their letter to the Santa Monica mayor serving this latest filing, NBAA asserted that the City’s fight for local control of the airport “…may lead to severe sanctions, such as the termination of all federal transportation grants to the City.” Thus, NBAA.org was implying that the Big Blue bus system, used by the elderly and many other Santa Monicans who do not even own cars, is at risk if individuals are not granted unlimited jet access to the airport.

Click here to see the short video and other Airport2Park.org content.

[QUOTE]: City Cites NBAA’s ‘Corporate Greed’ Behind Delayed Progress at Santa Monica Airport


“…the Airport belongs to the people of Santa Monica not to corporate interests. Our interest is the public interest. Our interest is to promote the well-being of tens of thousands of residents and control land purchased by the taxpayers of Santa Monica. What NBAA wants is to use our property, public property, for a select group of people that can afford private jets solely for their convenience. Although their arguments are wrapped in beautiful legal prose, when you peel away the curtain what you find is corporate interest who ordinarily believe in property rights except when it is an inconvenience for them….”

– Nelson Hernandez, senior advisor to the City Manager

Mr. Hernandez makes a very good point: the position being advocated by conservative aviation interests, who are consistently opposed to distant federal control and overreach, is a position that sustains and entrenches FAA’s bureaucratic interference so as to obstruct local authority. How ironic (and hypocritical) is that?

Click here to read the original article at Santa Monica Daily Press.

Click here to see a new aiREFORM.com webpage with recent KSMO documents, including articles, legal filings, and some background material.

All They Want is ‘LOCAL CONTROL’

The Mayor of Santa Monica lays it out very clearly, in an article published by a local paper, The Argonaut. The 1/6/2016 article presents a set of questions to community leaders, asking them to predict what citizens might expect to see during the new year on important Santa Monica issues. Here is the response by Mayor Vazquez:

What will happen next in the city’s battle
with the FAA over Santa Monica Airport?

– by Tony Vazquez

“The controversy over the Santa Monica Airport will continue into the New Year and most likely for years to come. The facts are Santa Monicans have voted to take control over our airport land. Yet the FAA continues to favor aviation interests to the detriment of the health and safety of the families that live near the airport.

After almost two years, including four extensions of time to render a decision, on Dec. 4 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its director’s determination that may affect the timing of Santa Monica regaining local control over our airport. The issue before the FAA was whether the city’s assurances stemming from a 1994 FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant expired in 2014 or whether the assurances expire in 2023. According to the determination, the assurances expire in 2023. The implication is that the city must continue to adhere to federal grant assurances and operate the airport accordingly until 2023. The city disagrees with the determination.

We believe the determination is factually incorrect and inconsistent with best grant management practices. Here’s why. Airports that receive FAA grants are obligated to meet and maintain certain assurances. We understand that and have fully complied. However, federal law states that after 20 years from the date of acceptance of the grant offer, the city — just like any other FAA grantee — is no longer subject to the assurances. Santa Monica accepted the grant in 1994; therefore the determination is wrong on the facts and is not sustainable.

The determination is not the final word; it is only the first. The city is entitled to two levels of appeals within FAA. The next level would be with an FAA hearing officer. Should the hearing officer agree with the director, the city may appeal to the FAA associate director of airports. And, of course, if the FAA associate director sides with previous conclusions, the city may pursue our rights in federal court.

The City Council has yet to decide as a body whether to appeal the determination. That decision will come in 2016. As mayor, I can say the city is fully committed to realizing the will of the voters, who in 2014 voted overwhelming in favor of Measure LC (Local Control).

We hope FAA senior management will rectify the agency’s initial error. Regardless, the city will keep fighting for local control over the airport land. The voters have spoken, and we will never give up!”

— Tony Vazquez is mayor of Santa Monica.

Mayor Vazquez accurately depicts the Delay-Game FAA plays, to benefit a handful of aviation interests against the health and quality-of-life interest of thousands of local residents. This is an egregious abuse of authority by FAA. The laws that Congress creates need to protect every community, to ensure they retain substantial ‘Local Control’ of their local community airport. Quite reasonably, local control should include setting the hours and intensity of use of their local airport, and protecting against pattern-noise operations such as skydiving operations or razor-thin NextGen routes. Airports need to serve communities first.

The substantial community problems around the Santa Monica Airport are caused mostly by bizjets and flight training. Frankly, these problems could easily be solved, improving both local environmental quality and safety, if only FAA would cooperate.  The solutions needed at KSMO need to go far beyond Santa Monica, as there are dozens of other U.S. communities denied local control by an FAA that behaves like an irresponsible out-of-state landlord. Notably, the jet-related impacts at Santa Monica have gone on for more than fifty years (check out this 1967 news article, showing a time when local control was asserted). Today’s FAA, using public funds to demand full-term compliance with 20-year grant assurance obligations, is sharply out of step with the need to serve the PUBLIC. Today’s FAA is using these grant obligations solely to deny local control.

Perhaps, new legislation is needed, to force FAA to restore meaningful local control. As part of that legislation, set Santa Monica free: let this community resume local control of it’s very impactful airport. Every community should have a contractual right to end obligations after 10-years, and even sooner if they refund a pro-rated portion of the grant amount.

Is Santa Monica Failing to Warn People about Lead Impacts?

The fight continues in Santa Monica, with city officials pressing FAA to let them take back local control of their airport. Mayor McKeown and the City Councilmembers have held many good sessions, allowing citizens to voice their concerns. The availability of documents and videos online has also been impressive, almost a model for other communities to follow. But, the performance of others within the city government has fallen short in some areas. One of these failures has to do with alerting the general public about the health hazards of lead pollution caused by the combustion of leaded aviation fuel.

KSMO.20151116cpy.. Promo for use of Airport Observation Decks

(Screen-capture of a city webpage promoting use of two observation decks. Although a settlement agreement in late 2014 included posting signs on the airport “…at conspicuous locations likely to be seen by the general public…,” NO SIGNS ARE POSTED at this observation deck.)

Lead is a serious neurotoxin, particularly damaging to growing children. The federal government began phasing lead out of paint and automobile fuels in the early 1970s, and by the end of 1995 lead was no longer sold in automobile gas. The same was supposed to happen in aviation. Instead, twenty years later, in 2015 small planes in the U.S. continue to run primarily on 100LL AvGas, the low-lead fuel FAA has failed to clean up.

Not insignificantly, there are even thousands of new small aircraft that have all been manufactured after automotive fuel lead disappeared in 1995. Instead of removing lead from fuel, in the early 1990s, FAA worked hard to foster development of an entire new industry sector: the ‘homebuilt’ or ‘kit’ airplane, such as the Van’s RV models. Most of the new kit planes run on new engines burning the same dangerous fuel: 100LL AvGas. Consequently, aviation today has become the largest source of lead air pollution in the United States.

In 2011, CEH.org took legal action against the leaded AvGas problem at California airports. After three years of legal wrangling, a settlement was struck: a court-enforced Consent Decree in which FBO’s (fixed base operators) selling AvGas at 24 California airports agreed to pay a fine, and the airports also agreed to perform public notifications. They were required to mail printed notices to all residences within one kilometer of the airport, and also required to post 24″ by 24″ signs warning about the lead hazard. The language of both the mailing and the warning signs conforms with California’s Prop 65.

(the text for lead hazard warning signs, as required by the consent decree in the CEH.org legal action.)

(the text for lead hazard warning signs, as required by the Consent Decree in the CEH.org legal action.)

The signage requirements were clearly laid out within the Consent Decree:

KSMO.20151116cpy.. Prop65 Lead warning sign, size & placement

(the sign placement requirements within the Consent Decree, with an emphasis on ensuring they would be seen by the general public.)

Logically, a lead hazard sign would have been placed at the observation deck, as in the picture above, where a dad has taken his two young children. This is a location close to the aircraft operational area, and a location where visitors can learn and make informed decisions.

(the best SDanta Monica could do was to place the sign above an ash tray, at an FBO's designated smoking area.)

(the best location Santa Monica officials would allow was to place the sign above an ash tray, at an FBO’s designated smoking area.)

So, what happened at Santa Monica? It appears that airport officials would not fully cooperate with the parties (CEH.org and the settling fuel dispensers). This meant that, in accordance with paragraph 2.1.1(c) of the Consent Decree, the FBOs were to place the signs on their own leased properties, at the location “…most likely to be seen by the general public.” In this picture, at one of the Santa Monica FBOs, the Prop 65 lead warning is on a fence, deep within the secure portion of the airport — above the ash tray, in the smoking area for the FBO!

Really? Yes. And so, with the city’s website, the city encourages parents to bring their children to the airport, and some city officials (such as the airport director) are careful to protect them from the knowledge of lead exposure. They ensure that the lead impact warning sign is across the field, where visitors will never see it: just above the cigarette butts nobody wants to be near, in an FBO smoking area.

Considering the great fight city officials are waging, trying to deal with an intransigent FAA, trying to regain local control of the airport and serve the local citizens, it really seems like a no-brainer. Mayor McKeown and the other Councilmembers need to issue an order to the airport officials: place lead warning signs at the most impactful location, the observation decks.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

Why No CA Prop 65 warning at SMO Observation Deck?
WEBPAGE – A detailed assessment by CRAAP, with many links to background materials about lead impacts

NextGen: A Formal Complaint by Phoenix Neighborhoods

It has now been more than 13-months since FAA implemented the impactful NextGen departures at Phoenix. Time and again since, concerns have been presented to FAA officials, by city officials as well as by thousands of impacted neighbors. Many voices and a whole lot of energy, even some formal legal actions, and yet FAA has been ineffective, and done nothing to mitigate the impacts.

Some of the formal actions have included:

  1. In early June, the city went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and filed a Petition for Review [article].
  2. On June 22nd, the counsel retained by the city [Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell LLP (KKR)], presented their 22-page Investigation of Phoenix New Departures Implementation. More than 900-pages of Exhibit documents were included in an assessment that revealed how FAA ramrodded their proposals through while quietly insisting there would be no significant impacts.
  3. FAA’s response to the Petition for Review: use publicly funded FAA lawyers to file legal papers, asking the courts to dismiss the City’s case.
  4. On July 30th, KKR filed an Opposition to FAA’s Motion to Dismiss.
  5. On July 31st, a second Petition for Review was filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. This time, petitioners included Story Preservation Association, Willo Neighborhood Association, Encanto-Palmcroft Historic Preservation Association, Roosevelt Action Association, and a number of individuals.
  6. By early October, local residents were becoming increasingly weary, and further losing trust in their elected officials. So, they filed a formal legal protest letter, in the form of a 14-page document sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Western Pacific Regional Administrator Glen Martin.

In the past year, people across the nation have begun to share their concerns about the NextGen impacts FAA continues to ignore. In a recent email exchange, here is what one East Coast NextGen victim (suffering near La Guardia and JFK airports) assessed, after reading a copy of the 10/7/2015 Phoenix complaint document:

“The petition alleges and documents an extraordinary amount of harm. A responsible public agency would immediately cease and desist. The damage, from the petition, is multifaceted, large, and widespread. The FAA clearly is neither responsible nor responsive to the well being of the public. The FAA response to complaints, in my experience, generally is pretense. The well being of the public is an environmental and health issue. Representative Grace Meng’s legislation should be promoted nationally!”

UPDATE, 11/2/2015: — A copy of the 7/31/2015 PFR was shared with aiReform, and added to the timeline above.

Interesting Reader Comments Submitted to AOPA’s Blog Post about Santa Monica Airport

One week ago, aviation lobby group AOPA posted an article about the fight for local control of the airport in Santa Monica, CA [KSMO]. Some interesting reader comments came in before the comment period was closed (an apparent 7-day standard comment period). Looking closely at these 31 comments, a few points are clear:

  1. ‘pro-airport’ commenters tend to rely on arguments that (a) the airport was there first (so neighbors should just ‘suck it up’), (b) elected officials are greedy and corrupt, (c) vocal airport neighbors are also just greedily trying to make money by closing the airport, (d) neighbors suffer from a ‘class-envy’ against wealthy aircraft operators, and (e) airports are closing all over the country. None of these arguments are supported by any rational evidence.
  2. ‘pro-local control’ commenters focus on health impacts connected to air pollution (including lead) and noise pollution, as well as safety issues such as the lack of adequate runway protection zones (needed to safely contain accidental runway excursions, protecting both pilots and neighbors). They appear to trust that their elected officials are NOT corrupt and are truly aimed at serving the public, including eliminating the pollution/health issues, and developing more needed park space.
  3. shockingly, at least two pro-airport commenters advocate eminent domain property seizures to protect their right to use the airport property. Ironically, one of the largest appeals of aviation is a sense of freedom and self-sufficiency while flying, and yet here we have aviators seemingly oblivious to the liberties of airport neighbors.
  4. It would be appropriate (and advisable?) for Santa Monica City Council members to quickly address the rumors of ‘conflict of interest’. Specifically, the Council should address this charge and have each member declare their status, related to the possibility that they have a financial interest that would benefit from the closing or scaling-down of the airport. This entire matter would take just 5-10 minutes at the next Council meeting, and would put all Council members on the record.
  5. Obviously, if there are any Council members with a conflict of interest, they need to both disclose and fully recuse from future decisions.

To read the archived comments, please see page two of this Post.