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Startup Airline Hits Turbulence at SMO

Surf Air, a membership-based but scheduled carrier, says the jobs and service it would bring to Santa Monica Airport seemed destined for some other regional airport.

The head of a recently announced members-only California airline says he has all but ruled out making Santa Monica Airport the carrier's Los Angeles-area terminal, due in large part to significant anti-airport sentiment.

"It's a great airport," said Surf Air CEO Wade Eyerly. "It's got a lot of pluses, a lot of people who live nearby who fly quite a bit.

But we've already been subject to a lobbying campaign to keep us from flying here," he said, "and if the community doesn't want us here, we'll fly out of a different airport."

Equally important, Airport Director Bob Trimborn said currently can't provide accommodations, including ramp space and parking, for Surf Air's type of operation.

Surf Air plans to start flying this summer, with two eight-passenger, single-engine turboprop planes, between Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Monterey. The company offers three tiers of month-to-month membership, one for under $800 a month. Unlike air charters, Surf Air flights will be on regular schedules. Passenger-members will book seats on specific flights, traveling as many times as they wish each month.

"We would bring thirty to a hundred jobs to Santa Monica,'' Eyerly said. "But some really active folks would rather not have us here, so we're looking at a couple of other airports."

Eyerly said Surf Air's Swiss-made PC-12 turboprops are quieter than Santa Monica's jets. With eight or nine takeoffs a day, "the idea that we would create such a nuisance that we couldn't have these jobs here is kind of sad," he said.

He's not overly concerned with Santa Monica Airport's possible closure or modification in 2015 when the city's 1984 operating agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration expires. If Surf Air establishes itself by then, it could change airports in 2015, Eyerly said. (The FAA disputes the agreement's expiration date).

But Eyerly acknowledged that if Surf Air were successful, "the case becomes much more compelling to keep [Santa Monica Airport] there.''

"If you just look at pure statistics and metrics, [Santa Monica Airport] seems great,'' he said. "But...there's a pitched battle going on. We can pick a side and go to war or we can just go somewhere else."

Surf Air doesn't have FAA certification yet, meaning Eyerly can't publicly announce his airport choice or what schedules will be set. But he's confident he'll be able to start operations this summer.

When weighing Santa Monica Airport against other area airports, such as Hawthorne and Burbank, Eyerly talked with aviation businesses here, along with members of the community and Santa Monica Airport director Trimborn.

Trimborn says he was frank about the sometimes heated community discussions and the local airport's current "visioning process."

Regarding Surf Air, Trimborn said, "It's a concept. I'm not taking their proposal seriously until it's a proposal, and it's not a proposal yet."

And if Surf Air gets FAA certified, would Eyerly still want to use SMO?

"I would say if we're welcome here, we'll be here," Eyerly said. "SMO makes a lot of sense to us, but as long as there are folks who don't want us here...we'll go elsewhere, and other folks will be thrilled to have the jobs and to have the flights (be) close and convenient to them."

natalie mcadams April 20, 2012 at 03:47 AM
Further to your comment that the facts show a limited emissions problem. Please see the following scientific conclusions. "The studies document black carbon and ultrafine particles emitted from the planes at SMO, which can cause damage to the lungs and increase asthma and other immunological responses in the elderly and children." Dr. John Froines, the UCLA Director of S.Calif. Environmental Health Sciences Center. Not only do jet aircraft create what scientists suspect to be dangerous particles, they blast them further into the surrounding environment than other machines that produce similar pollution. Dr. Suzanne Paulson, vice chair of the Dept. of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences at UCLA. Emissions were found 700 meters downwind from the airport versus the average freeway emission at 300 meters. Dr. Kim-Chi T. Hoang of the EPA showed elevated lead levels at SMO - 5 to 10 times higher than other areas of LA. Lead is known to stunt cognitive growth in children.
PB April 20, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Natalie: Calling me names is inappropriate and I don't appreciate it. Talking to you seems to be like talking to a wall anyway - you have your mind made up that a government should close an airport because you want it that way! Life isn't like that and you need to come down off your perch and face reality. I've made a few suggestions that I thought were positive yet you abuse me and call me names. That doesn't work and as far as I'm concerned you and your unusual website friends are off the radar. Let's hope for some intelligent dialogue and not the name calling that appeals to you.
Martin Rubin April 20, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Dear PB, INTELLIGENT dialogue would be welcome. I have read all the comments and yours seem bent on pushing buttons. That is one reason why I refrain from responding to utter nonsense. Natalie's comments are based on fact. Your comments are ludicrous. Your comments are nasty and mean spirited. What Natalie referred to you as is no worse than your use of the acronym NIMBY. I agree with her comments. She is not alone. Most neighbors of SMO want the toxic polluter closed. Actually you seem to be alone in espousing the pro-aviation views (no offense to the good pilots out there). I look forward to reading more of it as it exposes your true nature. Natalie is concerned about the health of her family. What the hell are you so bent out of shape about?
S A May 06, 2013 at 03:35 AM
Well Said PB... People always forget to compare the environmental impact of the airport to what otherwise would take its place. The fact is, all activities of human life have an environmental impact. the airport is not any worse than the roads and and buildings around it. With the exception of the leaded fuel issue currently is being addressed by the industry.
PB May 06, 2013 at 05:55 PM
I'm not bent out of shape, as you suggest, but have tried to bring some balance into this argument. My response to Natalie calling me "A pompous ass" was to state that talking to her was like talking to a wall! Your input is to accuse me of making 'nasty and mean spirited' statements. The anti-airport argument is simply not supported by fact. Your group has used every arrow in its quiver, yet when I actually read the studies and pollution counts contained therein I found that the pollution levels between the airport and the public road to the east were lower than on the east side of the same road - in other words, the pollution was actually produced from vehicles rather than from aircraft. I made the point that I actually read the EIR for the proposed ElToro International Airport, and I learned that all airports produce less pollution than the comparably sized residential usage. I made the point that EIRs use ten vehicular trips per day per residence and that density at SMO as a residential development would be sixty units per acre. This equates to 600 vehicle trips per acre per day, and that your group might consider that the emissions from such density makes an airport attractive by comparison. I am spurred to correct misinformation the type of which is being promulgated by the anti-airport segment.

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