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FAA Orders City of Santa Monica To Halt FBO Evictions

by Matt Thurber

 - December 14, 2016, 10:37 AM

The FAA issued an interim cease-and-desist order on December 12 to the city of Santa Monica, California, requiring the city to stop its process of attempting to evict the two Santa Monica Airport (SMO) FBOs—American Flyers and Atlantic Aviation. The city issued notices to vacate to the two FBOs on September 15, giving them 30 days to leave the airport. The city also revealed plans to take over FBO services at the airport, and earlier this year the city council voted to require airport leases to include language limiting the sale of fuel for piston-powered aircraft to unleaded fuel only and jet fuel to be limited to biofuel or “other sustainable fuels” at some future date.

On September 26, the FAA issued a notice of investigation to the city, “which included investigating the city's failure to enter into leases with aeronautical tenants,” according to the order. “Grant assurance 22 requires the city to make space available for aeronautical tenants on reasonable terms based on good faith negotiations. The city has failed to grant any aeronautical leases since 2015 and is alleged to have negotiated in bad faith while seeking onerous and unreasonable terms.”

The city filed unlawful detainer actions against the two FBOs on November 4, but both continue to operate at the airport. The FAA's analysis indicates that the city has “no basis to evict” the two FBOs, mainly because the city does not plan to offer all the services that the two FBOs provide. In any case, the city was not prepared to take over FBO services on October 15, 30 days after it sent the notices to vacate.

Both American Flyers and Atlantic Aviation filed Part 16 complaints with the FAA, asking the agency to block the eviction. The city did not oppose either complaint by the October 1 deadline. The city's responses to the September 26 notice of investigation, the FAA noted, “indicate the city's eviction of Atlantic is unlawful.”

The FAA order explained that the cease-and-desist order is not the agency's final action with regard to the city's efforts to close SMO. “This order is intended to maintain the status quo at SMO until such a time as the FAAcompletes its investigation under the [notice of investigation] and issues a final agency decision.” The city has 30 days to file a response.

NBAA welcomed the FAA's action. “Today's cease-and-desist order allows these businesses to continue normal operations as the agency considers the validity of the city's actions,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “Although federal regulations may allow the city to operate its own FBO, the city has also repeatedly made clear its intent to place as many restrictions as possible on general aviation operations at SMO.”

NBAA, AOPA and the Santa Monica Airport Association have also asked Santa Monica mayor Tony Vazquez to “withdraw an announced template agreement for SMO tie-down tenants that purports to allow the city to evict those users on short notice and without cause.”

Bolen added, “These ill-conceived efforts to close and restrict the airport not only have wasted local taxpayer dollars but they have resulted in lost opportunities to work with the aviation community to ensure that the airport continues to be a good neighbor and a vibrant, irreplaceable asset.”

Tony Vazquez