Predictably, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has weighed in strongly in opposition to the City of Santa Monica’s (“City”) plan to close the Santa Monica Airport (“Airport”) within the next two years. The City, owner and operator of the Airport, plans to begin the process of closure, including cancellation and/or modification of leases held by various aeronautical service providers, such as providers of fuel, maintenance and hangar storage. Those Airport incumbents are already paying rent on a month-to-month basis, subject to summary eviction.
Spurred on by Congress, FAA has issued a proposed policy revising its current position “concerning through-the-fence access to a federally obligated airport from an adjacent or nearby property, when that property is used as a residence.” 77 Fed.Reg. 44515, Monday, July 30, 2012. FAA’s current position, set forth in its previously published interim policy of March 18, 2011, 76 Fed.Reg. 15028, prohibited new residential “through-the-fence” access to Federally obligated airports.
The change came in response to Congress’ passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (“FMRA”) on February 14, 2012. Section 136 of FMRA permits general aviation (“GA”) airports, defined by the statute as “a public airport . . . that does not have commercial service or has scheduled service with less than 2,500 passenger boardings each year,” to extend or enter into residential through-the-fence agreements with property owners, or associations representing property owners, under specified conditions. 77 Fed.Reg. 44516. Sponsors of commercial service airports, however, are treated quite differently.
On May 17, 2012, FAA published in the Federal Register a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM); Reopening of Comment Period” for “Rules of Practice for Federally Assisted Airport Enforcement Proceedings (Retrospective Regulatory Review)” first published in March, 2012. In plain language, FAA is making substantial changes to the procedures for bringing a challenge to airports’ compliance with FAA grant assurances under 14 C.F.R. Part 16. “Grant assurances” are those commitments made by airport sponsors in return for receipt of federal funding of airport projects, as required by 49 U.S.C. § 47107. Any changes in the procedures for enforcing grant assurances are of significant interest not only to the airports, which may benefit from a relaxation in the procedures for challenging their actions, but also to airport users, such as fixed-base operators (“FBO”), airlines, and other airport related businesses. The proposed changes are broad in scope and purportedly made for the purpose of, among other things, becoming consistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.