Who Owns Santa Monica Airport?

This information is used with permission by Dominick Falzone, a fellow member of the SCMA.

The Santa Monica city government filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (and/or the U.S. Justice Department) this last week, to clarify that the city of Santa Monica owns the federal airport.

Federal officials contend that they have a right to keep the airport open for 2 different reasons.

The city owned the airport prior to World War II.  The federal government says that it BOUGHT the airport at the beginning of the war.  The federal government says that it gave the airport back to the city after the war, in 1948, under the condition that it be operated as a public airport forever—allegedly “in perpetuity”.  The city says that it LEASED the airport to the federal government during the war.  In 1948, the airport was allegedly returned to the city with no strings attached.

The federal government says that even if it didn’t buy the airport during World War II, it paid the city federal money to make improvements to the airport.  (It probably paid the city the money after the war had ended, and after 1948.)  By accepting that money, the city allegedly
obligated itself to operate the airport through 2023.

The federal government can land its aircraft, including Air Force One, almost anywhere it wants at no charge, because many major airport operators have accepted this type of federal subsidy for constructing improvements.  (If the president flies on personal business, he must pay the federal government the cost of a first class airline trip.  If the president travels on political business, his political party must pay money to the federal government.)

The Long Beach city government issues notification e-mails left and right to the public that such and such a military plane is planning to utilize the Long Beach airport at a specific time.  One e-mail explained that Long Beach is obligated to let military planes land because everyone, including the Long Beach city government accepts this federal airport improvement money.

The mayor of Santa Monica says that the ownership question needs to be resolved before the city can make decide on future plans for the airport.  Some people want the airport to be shut down because of possible safety and/or environmental problems.  There have been several airplane crashes, both outside of the airport grounds, and within the airport grounds, including one crash which occurred within the airport grounds last month.  (A plane veered off the runway, and struck a hanger, setting the hanger on fire, and killing the plane occupants.)

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court, in Los Angeles.  This is the main federal court which handles problems within Los Angeles County and a few adjacent counties.  (This court has a few satellite courthouses which are located throughout its service area.)

The Santa Monica Patch on-line newspaper posted an article today about the Santa Monica Airport lawsuit.  USA Today newspaper explained about Air Force One’s lack of landing fees at the Pittsburgh area airport, when the United States hosted world leaders for a major economic summit in Pittsburgh.  (The foreign governments had to pay landing fees to the local government’s airport agency.)

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