On separate sides of the continent, a pair of oceanside municipalities are getting evil in their attempts to shut down historic airfields.
You have to give a little credit to former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who in March of 2003 ordered city crews to destroy Meigs Field, the iconic Chicago general aviation destination that had been operating continuously on the lakefront since 1948. Daley, who was losing his fight to legally close the airport, instead resorted to brute force and ordered his crews to bulldoze big X’s in the runway and within a few months to wipe it out altogether. For its evil deeds, the city paid a $30,000 fine and paid back a $1 million grant from the FAA, a paltry price for its wanton destruction of an historical landmark.
Today, cities are using less drastic means to close our airports, some of which appear questionably legal and inarguably unethical. But, in the case of both Santa Monica, California, and Easthampton, New York, the bad guys seem to be winning, while using very different methods.
Santa Monica has chosen to starve its airport customers of services both vital and supplemental at the historic seaside strip. It has evicted the field’s FBO, Atlantic Aviation, and flight school American Flyers, and has said that it was going to provide those services itself. The timing of the announcement is spectacularly bold. Think about it: Santa Monica is suddenly interested in providing airport services after never having been interested in doing any such thing over the past eight decades while at the same time it’s publicly threatening to close the airport. It’s a lot like a doctor insisting on assisting with open-heart surgery on the guy who swindled him in a real estate deal while wearing his tennis whites. Something tells you that a successful outcome isn’t a real part of the plan.
It’s not duplicity, because that term implies that the liar has at least some baseline expectation of getting one over on the other party. No one in this case is fooled. We all know what Santa Monica is doing, and their establishing services at the airport is a bald-faced attempt to follow the letter of the law while bulldozing big X’s in the spirit of the rules. Death by a thousand tiny cuts.
Easthampton, on the other hand, is attacking aviation by other methods, curfews and even issuing summonses to violators of the curfew with threats of arrest to those who fail to appear. The city, like Santa Monica, says that it’s concerned with noise issues, but as in Santa Monica, supporters of the airport fear the city is just playing a high-stakes game, trying to shut down the airport while avoiding penalties from the FAA for violating its grant obligations.
Easthampton argues that the FAA released it from its grant obligation in a technicality, which the FAA disputes. Legal experts question if the FAA even has the authority to release any entity from a grant obligation. Santa Monica is facing the same kind of threat from the FAA, but it's choosing to make the airport unusable by starving it of services—it even evicted a popular restaurant a few weeks ago and has threatened to shorten the runway to limit jet traffic.
In both cases, the cities are using ingenious, though ethically questionable methods to fight the FAA with the stated aim of cutting noise or eliminating risk when it’s much more likely that what they’re really concerned about is the value of the land. It’s all a ruse; they know it, you know, and they know you know it.
The question is, will they get away with it? Let’s hope that, unlike with Meigs, the good guys pull this one out.