The City of Santa Monica filed a strong response to the Order to Show Cause issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) challenging the City’s ordinance barring larger, faster “Category C and D” aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO). The response featured a sworn statement by James Hall, former Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (1994-2001), saying, “In my opinion, in the absence of meeting the federal standards for [Runway Safety Areas] at Santa Monica Airport, Category C and D aircraft should not be permitted to operate due to the serious risk of injuries and deaths to occupants of the aircraft and members of the community resulting from aircraft operating on the margins of safety with no provision for the possibility of mechanical failure or pilot error.”
The response also included sworn statements from SMO Manager Robert Trimborn (circumstances pose “a significant and growing risk that an overrun will result in a catastrophe. The attendant injuries and loss of life could be horrific.”) and City Manager Lamont Ewell (the FAA “should be disqualified for reasons of bias from investigating and rendering any determination with regard to the validity” of the ordinance), as well as a 40-page legal brief objecting to the Order to Show Cause.
The City’s response was filed Monday, April 7, within the 10-day deadline set by the FAA. Lawyers for the City had requested a 20-day extension in which to respond, but that request was denied by the FAA, which cited the scheduled April 24 effective date of the ordinance, according to Deputy City Attorney Martin Tachiki. At the same time, the FAA denied expedited treatment to the City’s Freedom of Information Act request for FAA documents to review for its response, Tachiki said.
The FAA Order to Show Cause reads as though it calls upon the City to “show cause” why the FAA investigation should not be supplemented and expedited, but Tachiki expects that the ruling will be “on the merits” of the validity of the Santa Monica ordinance. And that ruling will be made by Kelvin Solco, Acting Director of the FAA Office of Airport Safety and Standards – the FAA official who issued the Order to Show Cause. The City could appeal that ruling to Solco’s supervisor, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports Kirk Shaffer – the FAA official who made the March 25 presentation to the City Council and who earlier called the Santa Monica ordinance “flatly illegal” in a letter to the City Council.
Only then would the City be able to file a Notice of Review and take the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals. On the other hand, Tachiki said that the FAA has no authority to enjoin enforcement of the ordinance, but would have to go to court itself in an effort to do that.
The City’s legal brief, prepared by the City Attorney’s office with the New York and Washington, D.C. law firm expert in aviation matters retained by the City, argues that the legal issues can only be decided by a court rather than the FAA, that the FAA has prejudged the issues, that the ordinance is in any case valid, and that FAA invalidation would violate the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Congressional mandate that the FAA make safety its priority.
James Hall, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), states in his declaration filed with the City’s response to the FAA that “[t]he NTSB has, for almost 32 years, urged the [FAA] to ensure the implementation of adequate runway safety areas at airports.” Challenging the FAA’s argument that seeks to divorce design standards from operating standards, he says, “For a safe aviation system it is imperative that airport design standards and flight operations standards work together to provide protection to persons on board aircraft and persons on the ground…. For aviation safety it is very important that aircraft only operate at airports that meet the design criteria for those aircraft.”