Santa Barbara’s airport commission has sent a clear signal to the Federal Aviation Administration of its commitment to address an economic discrimination complaint, which places under threat $17 million worth of FAA funds earmarked for the airport for the next five years.
“Getting off the FAA’s radar screen is an extraordinarily good idea, and we need to do that quickly,” said Airport Commissioner Craig Arcuri Wednesday night during the Airport Commission meeting.
Mr. Arcuri, however, took careful steps to make a motion in lieu of adopting a policy proposed by Airport Administration.
“It’s reasonable to acknowledge some commissioners’ concerns that the word ‘adopt’ implies you’ve delivered to us the details…” said Mr. Arcuri. “I know that’s not where we’re at today. We’re not ready to adopt the details because they haven’t been created.”
Indeed, the details have not been worked out yet, and Mr. Thompson repeated this point several times when Airport Commissioner Carl Hopkins asked Mr. Thompson specific questions. Mr. Hopkins’ questions mainly concerned what the proposed changes would mean for independent operators. Mr. Thompson’s reply each time was that details have not been outlined.
Mr. Arcuri’s motion directs “airport staff to create a policy that protects airport improvement program grant funding and updates Santa Barbara Airport minimum standards accordingly to address independent commercial activity and to present such recommendations to the airport commission no earlier than the January meeting.”
The motion passed three to one with Mr. Hopkins as the lone dissenter.
“I cannot support it without a motion commitment for public meetings involving the entire stakeholders,” said Mr. Thompson.
The stakeholders are comprised of flying clubs, plane owners, and independent commercial operators, including instructors.
The independent commercial operators were the center of the verbal complaint filed to the FAA last year by Above All Aviation. The complaint alleged that economic discrimination was taking place at SBA. FAA Airports Compliance Program Manager George E. Aiken penned a letter last year saying, “We strongly suggest that the airport sponsor review and revise rules and standards to establish and maintain an equitable competitive environment in which tenant and non-tenant entities can do business without unfair advantage or unintended disadvantage.”
Public commenters, however, said that the proposed policy would not address economic discrimination but exacerbate it by promoting the emergence of a monopoly.
Airport Commissioner Paul Bowen told the News-Press that a monopoly occurring is highly likely in this situation.
“You don’t just hand over the keys to one business,” said Mr. Bowen.
Mr. Bowen is referring to the flight instruction activity options outlined by Airport Operations Manager Aaron Keller. According to the options, independent commercial operators who wish to continue conducting business would either have to launch a new flight school or apply to work for a flight school.
“Multiple people (unhappy with the proposed options) have indicated that there might be lawsuits,” said Mr. Bowen.
In addition to lawsuits, there’s also the option of filing a formal written complaint to the FAA, according to Mr. Bowen. Any formal written complaint would lead the FAA to launch an investigation, which would immediately put on hold the funding slated for SBA.
The next Airport Commission meeting will take place 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Airport Administrative building, 601 Firestone Road, Santa Barbara.