Santa Monica Airport closure in 2015 challenged by tenants

smo rampActor Harrison Ford, other Santa Monica Airport tenants and national aviation groups filed a federal complaint Wednesday, challenging the long-held position of the city that the embattled airport can be shut down in July 2015.

Santa Monica leaders have insisted that the terms officials of federal airport improvement grants the city has received over the years allow them to close the general aviation hub next year because all conditions requiring operation will have expired.

But in a complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, the tenants say that in August 2003, $240,600 was added to a $1.6-million grant, pushing back the closure date to at least August 2023. Grant terms usually expire after 20 years.

“It’s pretty much self-evident,” said Richard K. Simon, an attorney for the tenants. “This is a very important issue. The city is already studying actions that would violate the grant assurances.”

Deputy City Atty. Ivan Campbell, who has handled airport matters, declined to comment Wednesday, saying he had not yet discussed the complaint with city officials.

In addition to Ford, the complaint was filed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., the National Business Aviation Assn., an aircraft brokerage, a flight school, a repair shop, an aerial film production company and several aircraft owners.

The complaint sets in motion an administrative process in which both sides present their positions and evidence to a high-ranking FAA official. The decision can be appealed in federal court.

Santa Monica faced a similar proceeding several years ago after it tried to ban certain types of jets at the airport. The FAA overturned the ban and the city lost on appeal.

In various court and FAA proceedings, the city has said that the funds received in 2003 were merely an accounting matter and imposed no new conditions on airport operations. Santa Monica also has disputed the findings of a hearing officer, who disagreed with its position.

The FAA has fended off the city’s legal challenges, asserting the airport must remain open until 2023 because of the 2003 grant amendment. Agency officials also say that under a 1948 agreement that returned the airport to the city after World War II, the federal government must approve any closure.