Going Direct: FAA As The Enemy

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The agency’s blindsiding GA on its Santa Monica capitulation was more than the alphabets could take. 

A couple of weeks ago when the FAA made the surprise announcement—“surprise” as in Pearl Harbor and not Happy Birthday, by the way—we weighed in that the move was something we’d never seen the agency do before. Our suggestion, you might recall, was not to take it lying down, but to say “hell, no.” Thankfully, the National Business Aviation Association, along with Santa Monica-area parties supporting the airport, has filed a motion requesting a stay of the FAA’s settlement agreement with Santa Monica that would allow the city to immediately shorten the runway to 3,500 feet (a length that would be too short to allow jet traffic), and to allow the city to shut down SMO as an airport by 2028.

Our take was that something was going on for the FAA to have reached a settlement that was in such diametric philosophical opposition to its long-held positions on the case. Not only that, but the manner in which the agency reached the agreement, to have shaken hands and signed documents before giving the aviation community a heads-up about it, evinces in our minds a consciousness of guilt on the part of the FAA. It clearly didn’t want to introduce a plan so abhorrent to GA without it being a done deal. Just what transpired to cause the FAA to swap positions on SMO so suddenly and drastically is unknown. We hereby ask the agency to fill us in on those details.

In its filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., NBAA protested that in reaching the settlement “FAA disregarded well-established statutory and regulatory prerequisites to the release on an airport from federal obligations.” It continued that “Even a cursory review of the actions taken—and not taken—by FAA finds that the agency did not comply with requirements both basic and mandatory, and thus the settlement agreement is invalid—as would be any actions taken in reliance upon it.” 

I’m sure that the NBAA thought long and hard before filing such a motion. After all, there’s a longstanding practice in aviation of industry organizations playing nice with the FAA while still asking for what we want and, in some cases, what we need. That approach is in the spirit of best practices conflict resolution.

But when the agency so blatantly flaunts its power as to unilaterally impose a settlement that it knew was anathema to the GA community, that’s a sure sign that that spirt of lively disagreement between stakeholders and the regulators has been broken. In such cases it’s time to stop playing nice, even if that means stepping on some toes of some folks we’ll have to work with later. Ground rules matter, and we’ve got to insist that the FAA abide by them. 

We reached out to both AOPA and EAA for comment on the NBAA’s motion for a stay but did not hear back from them on short notice. We’ll update when we get comment from those GA member organizations.

We applaud NBAA for taking up the mantle in this fight not only to save Santa Monica, but to give the FAA a message loud and clear that its Santa Monica dirty deal was no way to treat its partners.

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If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

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