The Temporary Restraining Order against enforcement of the Santa Monica ordinance banning the larger, faster “Category C and D” aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO) was extended into a Preliminary Injunction by United States District Court Judge George Wu on Friday, May 16, the day after a half-hour hearing on the matter. The city will continue to fight the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with one or more legal actions as early as this week, including a possible appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The city attorney’s office said Wu’s action was no surprise, as it was based on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the case.
This is the latest development following the City Council’s final approval of the ordinance on March 25 and the issuance the following day of an administrative Order to Show Cause by the FAA, which contends the ordinance is unlawful.
The Preliminary Injunction, which remains in effect for the life of the FAA’s suit against the City unless modified or dissolved on appeal, continues the prohibition against the City from enforcing the ordinance.
The ordinance was adopted by the City Council after five years of City attempts to negotiate airport safety issues with the FAA. Category C and D aircraft are planes with approach speeds of 121 knots or more, as compared to category A and B aircraft which have approach speeds of less than 121 knots. The City owns and operates the airport, but its operations are subject to FAA regulation.
The City has argued that the ordinance does nothing more than enforce existing FAA safety regulations. The airport is classified by the federal government as a B-II airport suitable for use by category A and B aircraft, but has experienced growing numbers of bigger, faster category C and D aircraft using the facility. This has created concerns of overruns at the ends of the runway.
FAA safety standards call for Runway Safety Areas (RSAs) at either end of runways – for category C and D aircraft the standard is 1,000 feet at each end. SMO has none. Because category A and B aircraft require less runway, the standard 300-foot RSAs for those airplanes could be accommodated.
The FAA has proposed much shorter RSAs for SMO with an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) – a special sort-of-soft-concrete surface that is crushed by the weight of an airplane and slows it down – a proposal that SMO manager Robert Trimborn says “would not even come close to meeting the FAA’s own published standards for safety areas for Category C and D aircraft.”