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."

Brian R. Bland April 16, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Mike and all: The story makes it clear that Surf Air plans to fly single-engine turboprop planes, Swiss-made PC-12s. Unfortunately, the photo caption incorrectly states that such a plane is a jet, which is not true. Brian R. Bland
PB April 16, 2012 at 08:21 PM
And the reason there are no runway safety zones is because the City Council, in 1974 during a recession, chose to allow residential development to occur in the safety areas. The problem here is one of city ineptitude and greed, and the intolerance of the community. What frustrates me is the head in the sand attitude of the community and the blindness to what this airport area will look like if it is closed and redeveloped. An airport is a great alternative to the alternative congestion, traffic and air pollution of a dense mixed use development. Look at Playa Del Rey on the old Hughes Airport and double to density as an example - does the community really want this?
natalie mcadams April 16, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I say Hurrah! that Surf Air is not going to locate here. They have and will continue to face much resistance here. The Surf Air planes are turbo props which fly jet fuel so while they may not be adding to the lead caused by the prop planes, they are adding to the jet emissions which is FAR WORSE, and they are adding traffic which increase the likelihood of a plane crash and they are adding to the noise pollution. There is no certainty that the airport will remain in 2015 and if it does operations will be vastly cut back. The jet fuel centers leases do not have to be renewed and if you run an operation that flies on jet fuel and there are no fueling centers at your hub that could present a problem. I also echo the comments that the airport is a money loser. How exactly would bringing a small airline to Santa Monica for the business commuter generate substantial new business. The answer it won't. Take it elsewhere, we don't want it here.
Martin Rubin April 16, 2012 at 08:27 PM
As I understand it, turboprop planes are unique in that they place a propeller in front a of a turbo (jet) engine. Rather than using Avgas they use jet fuel, the same as the jets. Neighbors of SMO have environmental and public health concerns regarding the use of both; avgas and jet fuel.
natalie mcadams April 16, 2012 at 08:41 PM
PB, I understand your concerns but frankly anything would be preferable to be constantly bombarded by cancer causing agents. Additionally a great deal of the land on which SMO sits is deeded in perpetuity as a park. I doubt this was the case in Playa del Rey. In third place, the land is so polluted that it will have to undergo a through cleansing before it can be developed for anything. It is shocking that the City of Santa Monica created a children's park there without any studies about the pollutants in the soils. I 100% agree with you that in large part the fact that we have houses basically sitting on the runway is due to City greed and ineptitude but I don't agree with you that what we have now is the best its going to get so we should just accept it out of fear of what might come. That sounds like the head in the sand position to me.
PB April 16, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Natalie: your response is well reasoned and thought out. My experience with airport usage was gained during the El Toro International Airport studies (which I actually read) and what was illuminating was surprisingly low levels of pollutants that are emitted at airports versus modern mixed use development. The El Toro studies assumed ten vehicular trips per day per residince, yet this was a low figure. It seems we forget activity by meter readers, newspaper deliverers, FedEx etc., and if you take the density at Playa del Rey and double it you will be at well over 60 units per acre. That's over 600 vehicular trips per day per acre at SMO, and the traffic congestion and pollution will be awful - worse than at the airport now. The airport is not going to be a park - ever! The land is too valuable and demand too great, so while planes are occasionally noisy they emit little emission (surprise, but true) comparative to other uses. The City fines noisy airplanes - they have noise monitors and they track the aircraft.
PB April 16, 2012 at 09:55 PM
I remember the protests against development in the 1970s and the concern that new residents would complain about the airport, and the mayor said that "everyone buying a home there knows there is an airport and they can't possibly complain". So I don't feel angst toward the pilots or the plane owners - the real cause of this unhappiness is the Santa Monica City Council. One thing is for sure - the cancer causing agents produced by vehicles in a mixed use development that would replace the airport will be greater than those produced at the airport by aircraft.
natalie mcadams April 16, 2012 at 10:24 PM
It is not true that cars pollute more than jets. Please take a look at the studies compiled in the recent senatorial hearing about pollution at SMO by Senator Ted Lieu. these can be found at www.jetairpollution.com. Jet emissions affect a 25 mile area around an airport. People, children, animals and plants are toxic crop dusted by jet emissions for 12 miles from a runway end. http://aviationjustice.org/impact/aviation-and-air-pollution/ The jet exhaust contains substances that are not in car fuel. Highly carcinogenic benzpyrene, a byproduct of jet fuel combustion attached to soot, can cause cancer and tumors in humans through lung and skin adsorption; these are deposited into the atmosphere across the United States at rates that far exceed safety limits on a daily basis. In the face of all this evidence I am surprised to hear that you read something contrary. Could you please provide the source for that material as I would very much like to read it too. One look at the budget published by Santa Monica shows how very few planes are actually fined for noise and for breaking the curfew. If you call the airport, they will tell you how little ability they actually have to enforce the "fly neighborly program." Further there are only two noise monitors which is ineffective to measure the impacts around the rest of the neighborhood. I have been woken up by a plane on a missed approach but guess what? That's not considered a landing so it's not measured. Lots of loopholes.
Chuck Mason April 17, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Ah, the ol' "I'll take my business elsewhere" gambit. Rick Caruso played the Glendale city government like a violin w/ this tactic back in the 90's as he was squeezing more and more tax breaks and gifts for the development of The Americana shopping center. It worked out nicely for him; might work for Mr. Eyerly too. No, this resident feels that an actual airline at SMO would be unpleasant in every way. But I also think the kleptocracy of Santa Monica will grease the machinery that yields them the greatest amount of money. And that could be an open invitation to have The Grove (another Caruso spectacle) #2 right here on Centinela Blvd.
Richard B April 17, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Thank You Surf Airlines, you guys seem to be the only people listening to the voice of the residents living near by-Thank You
Friends of Sunset Park April 17, 2012 at 03:27 AM
I don't understand the references to development near the Santa Monica Airport runway in the 1970's. I have a copy of an aerial photo from 1940 that shows homes west of the runway. Then, shortly thereafter, when the runway was reconfigured and the west end was extended from 27th to 23rd Street, entire blocks of homes in Sunset Park were demolished. An aerial photo from 1950 shows tracts of homes in Mar Vista and North Westdale. And a photo from 1956 shows homes directly across the street from the east end of the runway. All of these homes were built before jets started using Santa Monica Airport.
PB April 17, 2012 at 07:17 AM
This thread is becoming pointless. Yes, a jet will create more emissions than a car. The point is that it the area is redeveloped that you'll have emissions from thousands of cars, diesel trucks etc., whereas SMO has a plane using that single runway every two minutes at the most - and very few are jets. As for those who talk about leaded aviation fuel - only small planes use low lead fuel, and it's being phased out anyway. The disinformation that the community relies on is simply leading us in the wrong direction. What you are led to want is, if you study the facts, worse than the present situation. My daughter and her family live in Mar Vista - I don't want them sick, but I believe that the present situation is better than the alternative.
Brad Political Pwned April 17, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Sick and pathetic uneducated idiots that move into an area nearby an airport then complain about it. Must be the same type of person that moves into an area near the beach then complains that your kid drowned in the surf. If you don't want to be next to an airport - DONT LIVE NEXT TO AN AIRPORT. Silly sad trolls.
natalie mcadams April 17, 2012 at 03:58 PM
"sick pathetic uneducated", "silly sad trolls" - wow - I have to question the education level of someone who is unable to converse on a subject without denigrating those who hold a contrary viewpoint. I have an idea Brad - why don't you move to another country where freedom of speech and viewpoint are prohibited.
PB April 17, 2012 at 04:14 PM
"ben·zo·py·rene (b n z -p r n , -p -r n ). n. A yellow, crystalline, aromatic hydrocarbon that is a carcinogen found in coal tar and cigarette smoke." I wonder how many folks in the SMO area who are unhappy about the airport smoke cigarettes? According to this definition, benzopyrene is contained in cigarette smoke. Anyone breathing second hand smoke is exposed. Let's get real - folks inland from LAX cope with four runways, (40 to 60 flights per hour on average x 4 runways = 160 to 200 flights an hour) and SMO has perhaps 3 jets per hour. The folks inland from LAX seem to be ok, yet they get more than 100 times more emission over their area than any home at SMO (derived by size of aircraft and volume of fuel burn times frequency). The argument against emission contaniment doesn't hold up, it seems.
PB April 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
(From Shell Oil) Avgas 100LL This grade is the low lead version of Avgas 100. Low lead is a relative term. There is still up to 0.56 g/litre of lead in Avgas 100LL. This grade is listed in the same specifications as Avgas 100, namely ASTM D 910 and UK DEF STAN 91-90. Avgas 100LL is dyed blue. To read more about the fuel, download its MSDS now. Avgas 82 UL This is a relatively new grade aimed at the low compression ratio engines which don't need the high octane of Avgas 100 and could be designed to run on unleaded fuel. Avgas 82UL is dyed purple and specified in ASTM D 6227. Natalie - low lead has up to 0.56 g/litre) = up to 2 grams of lead in a gallon. 28 grams = one ounce. A single engine light aircraft burns less than ten gallons an hour and if it is on the taxiway and then takeoff it will burn perhaps two gallons = 4 grams of lead which is then dispersed over a very wide area. This is such a tiny amount that it is virtually irrelevant. Times 30 operations an hour = 120 grams amount.. Why not press for unleaded fuel to be made available at SMO? Then much of the argument goes away since most light aircraft can use 92 octane unleaded fuel? Folks on this thread are unhappy - so how about pressing for something achievable, like having unleaded fuel available at SMO?
PB April 17, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Dick: Surf Airlines would never have gotten 'airline' approval at SMO. To run an airline under FAA Part 121 operation you need a terminal with parking, security, and required setbacks and clearances which is not available at Santa Monica. While Surf Air might have chosen a politically correct argument to quote when abandoning it's SMO application, they would never have gained an airline approval for that airport. Air Taxi operation (Part 135) - yes. But then it isn't an airline, but a charter service.
natalie mcadams April 17, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Well apparently most of the United States thinks that smoking is dangerous b/c it is outlawed in almost every interior public space and in the City of Santa Monica in general. With that in mind, isn't it interesting that that same city has no issue with blowing tons of it into the West LA neighborhoods. I don't smoke and none of the people on the North Westdale Airport Committee do either but one thing to note is that if I did smoke I would be choosing to poison myself whereas with the jet emissions, I have no choice. I am tired of giving you the same links to the research that PROVES that jet emissions are much more toxic than car emissions. You believe what you want and when you kids and grandkids have cancer or brain damage or learning difficulties, then perhaps you will change your tune. If I were you with family in the immediate vicinity of the airport, I would be more concerned with the actual facts. Have you even bothered to read the reports from UCLA and the EPA and the SCQMD? go to jetairpollution.com to do so.
natalie mcadams April 17, 2012 at 05:35 PM
I am happy to press for unleaded fuel at SMO. In fact i created a petition on change.org asking the EPA to further legislate this issue. http://www.change.org/petitions/us-epa-director-ban-the-use-of-lead-in-aviation-gas-avgas Why don't you sign in and become and advocate for this issue yourself? I would be happy if the planes at SMO would switch to unleaded gas. Your post doesn't take into account the repetitive traffic from the flight schools who practice touch and gos all day long. Why don't you ask Joe Justice or Justice Aviation if he would retrofit all of his planes that circle around and around and around all day long seven days a week dropping lead on the surrounding neighborhoods including and especially Mar Vista. See how likely he is to do that without some sort of federal regulations requiring him to do so. In fact, he stood up in an OPA meeting and said that all of the older people in the room were exposed to lead and they were okay so we shouldn't worry about our kids. Really, so we should still have lead in our paint in our homes and in our car gas tanks? I am for any steps that reduce the toxic emissions at SMO on every level. Lead is one problem. Noise is another problem. And the biggest problem is the jet fuel emissions. Since the FAA has ruled that you can't have prop planes without jets, the airport has to go.
an interested observer April 17, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Natalie, I assume you are aware that living east of LAX would be a worse case scenario since 100's of toxic jets land every day. I have not read of any increase in disease in those communities. Is there a reason why SMO would be different?
PB April 18, 2012 at 12:05 AM
The maximum capacity of a single runway airport is thirty movements an hour - if you look at the statistics for SMO it should reflect that number as a maximum, and the great majority will be small aircraft - most doing touch and go's in training. But you need to look at the numbers and understand the actual fuel burn and emissions of these small planes - and these small planes can ALL use unleaded fuel so simply lobby for unleaded fuel to be made available. Several airports already offer unleaded 92 octane avgas, so why not SMO? Then your concern simply disappears. I went to the website jetpollution.com and it reads like a NIMBY group with a lot of loosely assembled hysterical propaganda - I'd like to believe it but it just doesn't read well. What I do know is that the amount of lead in avgas is minute (as quoted in my earlier post from Shell Oil) and much of the lead is burned and some retained in the engine oil. What little is disbursed is so widely distributed that I don't believe it can pose a threat to anyone unless they stood next to the exhaust pipe. I do see your name prominent on anti-airport postings so you seem to be a one person band, leading the charge. I admire the dedication. Let's be positive and suggest you ask the airport management to arrange for unleaded fuel to be added at SMO. That means all those pesky little flight school planes will burn unleaded fuel.
natalie mcadams April 18, 2012 at 03:49 AM
To the interested observer, the homes around SMO sit less than 300 ft from the airport. That is not the case at LAX b/c the city with federal subsidies bought out all the homeowners west of the runway. See http://www.lakata.org/arch/surfridge/ so it's not an issue there anymore. Much of what has been learned about the jet fuel is more recent. PB, I am not leading a one person band. There are over 1,000 members of CRAAP and 1,000 people participated in surveys by CASMAT and over half of those people want the airport shut and over 70% want operations drastically reduced. Marty has been doing this work for a long time and the whole point is NOT IN MY BACKYARD or anyone's backyard for that matter. There have to be minimum distances established between homes and families and aircraft operations, especially jet aircraft. As I have continually said, the lead in the small craft is an issue but not on par with the toxic jet exhaust. If you prefer go to this article and read about the toxins herein http://sd28.senate.ca.gov/news/2011-12-01-santamonicapatchcom-state-senate-panel-reviews-air-toxins-smo. Or read this article http://www.smdp.com/Articles-local-news-c-2011-12-02-73048.113116-Hearing-takes-aim-at-SMO-pollution.html. The second one also addresses the elevated lead levels around SMO. The FAA has ruled that SMO cannot exclude jets. If you want to lobby for unleaded fuel, I will support your efforts. But I want it closed.My question is why do you want it to stay?
PB April 18, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Why do I want the airport to stay? Because it provides a valuable and necessary public service. Aside from the jets that are discussed, there is police and air ambulance, and the airport in emergency periods is invaluable. It provides transportation assistance to large volumes of people annually. The impact seems localized, so the cure is a localized cure - have the city get a grant and buy and remove the affected homes at the end of the runway. The government greed for taxes led them to approve the houses - if occupation is intolerable then remove the houses. Let me be clear - I do not fly into SMO. I have a pretty open mind. However after having read the reports linked to your website I conclude that the emission problem is not serious.... "CO was dominated by vehicles going in and out of the airport". There are spikes associated with jets but the jet frequency is minimal. Further, Stage 3 jets are now banned. Schwarzenegger can't fly his G3 out of SMO any more.
PB April 18, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I noted in the report about air quality that I read on your website that the particulates read were higher at one station due to the vehicle use along Bundy. This suggests that the vehicle use is the greater problem (along local roads) than the airport emissions. As I earlier stated - emissions from an airport are lower due to the size of the airport than an average community. Replace the airport with 60 units to the acre and the emissions at the surrounding homes will rise tremendously so while the airport may not be your friend, it is better than the alternative of mixed use development.
natalie mcadams April 20, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Provide one ex. of SMO providing assistance in an emergency period? I have never seen police fly in or out of SMO. Air ambulances here usually go by helicopter to LAX. Since you don't live here or fly here, how do you know what happens here? What a pompous ass you are to say that we should all just vacate our homes. The toxic waste from SMO affects Santa Monica, LA and Venice not just the homes at the east end of the runway. Weighing the value of all the surrounding homes and schools and the health of the inhabitants against the convenience of the very few who fly at SMO leaves no doubt as to who should stay and who should go.
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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