After years of butting heads and trading court cases on the topic of restricting flight operations at Santa Monica Airport, local officials and the FAA may have found a way to agree. Santa Monica is going to pay flight schools to go elsewhere for touch and goes and pattern work and the FAA thinks that’s likely an idea that can fly. “While we have not reviewed the specifics of Santa Monica’s proposal, generally an airport operator does not need the FAA’s approval to establish a voluntary program that is offered to all flight schools at the airport,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the Santa Monica Daily Press. Qualifying flight schools will get $150 per flight to cover the costs of heading to another airport for that kind of training. That has, however, caught the attention of the likely recipients of the increased training traffic and at least one airport may be able to deny those flights.
Nearby Torrance no longer has any of the grant obligations to the FAA that keep Santa Monica from restricting operations (Santa Monica’s run out in 2015) and Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto says his town’s good neighbor policy only goes so far. “Santa Monica Airport has training schools there, and Santa Monica Airport should be bearing the brunt of the burden,” Scotto said. Based on Santa Monica’s experience, however, other airports in the area that do have federal obligations may have no choice but to accept the bounce-and-go traffic. Santa Monica tried to restrict the number of business jet movements a few years ago but a federal court upheld the FAA’s position that the expenditure of federal money for things like runway, navigation and other improvements gives the agency sole discretion over the traffic permitted at a given airport. Since it’s everyone’s money that’s being spent, the FAA generally favors the fewest restrictions possible and then usually just for safety reasons.