| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Oct 31 The city of Santa Monica
filed a lawsuit on Thursday to wrest control of its municipal
airport from the federal government, marking the latest chapter
in a decades-long dispute over the future of the historic
general aviation hub.
Filed against the Federal Aviation Administration in U.S.
District Court in Los Angeles, the suit comes weeks after the
fiery crash-landing of a small business jet killed four people
and reignited a debate over safety at the 86-year-old facility.
Critics of the airport, where various Hollywood celebrities
and show business executives keep their private planes, seized
on the Sept. 29 wreck as a wake-up call to hazards they say the
facility poses to densely populated surrounding communities.
The crash occurred about 150 feet (46 meters) from homes
nearest the airport in the seaside town west of Los Angeles.
The site's unusually close proximity to homes stems from a
real estate boom that coincided with the airport's development
during and after World War Two, when the property was leased to
the U.S. government and Douglas Aircraft Co. expanded its
airplane manufacturing there.
The property was turned back to the city after the war, but
the FAA has insisted that the city must keep the site open as an
airport in perpetuity, under the terms of the 1948 transfer
Santa Monica officials said they are challenging the FAA
claims as unconstitutional and seeking a court declaration that
the city holds clear title to the airport property, which some
local groups have long sought to convert into a public park.
FAA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying
they do not discuss pending litigation as a matter of policy.
Homeowners and municipal officials have battled for decades
to curb flight activity at Santa Monica Municipal Airport or to
close it altogether, facing stiff opposition from the FAA,
aircraft owners, pilots and businesses connected with the site.
The contingent of well-heeled, celebrity aircraft owners
said to have kept planes there include Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford,
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise and John
In addition to neighborhood objections to noise and air
pollution, city officials have complained the airport's single
5,000-foot (1,524-meter) runway is too short to safely
accommodate some of the larger, faster jets allowed to take off
and land there.
The Santa Monica City Council adopted a resolution in 1981
seeking to close the airport when legally possible, triggering
an FAA lawsuit. The parties later settled in a deal the Santa
Monica officials say obligates the city to keep the airport open
only through 2015.
The FAA has taken the position that the city is required to
keep operating the airport until at least 2023 under assurances
it gave in exchange for federal airport improvement grants.
The FAA also asserts that the city must keep the airport
open indefinitely because it acquired the property cost-free
from the government after World War Two under terms of the
federal Surplus Property Act.
(By Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Simao)