A Circuit Court has ruled that because Santa Monica has accepted millions in federal grants it cannot ban the business jets that make up roughly 7 percent of its operations. The court found that, between 1985 and 2003, the city accepted $10.2 million in federal funds under the airport improvement program, and terms of that acceptance included making the airport available "to all types kinds and classes of aeronautical uses." The airport, which serves as a reliever for LAX, has been embroiled in controversy since the city council tried to close it in 1981. That fight led to a 1984 resolution that will keep the airport open until at least 2015. The effort to ban jets began in 1998 and, in spite of the latest ruling, there may be challenges ahead.
The court determined that Santa Monica is bound by language in its contracts with the FAA, but that language does include an exception. The language states that the city is allowed to ban certain aircraft for safety reasons. Santa Monica has argued in the past that the single runway's length and overrun area are cause for concern. But the court's opinion states that continued jet service at the airport does not present a unique safety concern. In fact, it states that the FAA presented evidence that slower aircraft are more likely than the jets to undershoot or experience an overrun the runway. Between 1981 and 2007, there were six runway overruns at SMO, according to AOPA, and all involved piston-engine aircraft.