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Santa Monica Airport: Strike Three, You're Out!

Noise and air pollution at SMO have long been problems for nearby residents, now there's new reasons to believe the airport is also unsafe.

  1. NOISE: strike one;
  2. AIR POLLUTION: strike two;
  3. UNSAFE: strike three!

Operators of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) will have you believe that it's the No. 1 airport when it comes to placing rules on noise.

That may be true, but consider these facts. SMO is also No. 1 when it comes to being more closely abutted by residential neighborhoods—so much so that neighbors of SMO feel that they still suffer from excessive and improperly measured noise impacts. There exists credible scientific studies that show noise adversely affects human health.

SMO has been compared to an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes. That's a fair assessment considering that homes are as close as 220 feet from the east end of the runway, and a bit more than that on the west end. This is the distance from jet aircraft to homes—at takeoff! Like on an aircraft carrier, pilots hold the brakes while revving up their jets to full power. All the while, they're blowing enormous amounts of toxic pollutants over the Los Angeles residential neighborhood of North Westdale. Leaf blowers are banned in Santa Monica and they are illegal to use within 500 feet of a residential property in Los Angeles. And yet a couple of jet engines 220 feet away from a residential community go unchecked?

Coupled with this extreme air pollution is painful, ear-shattering noise. Studies pointing to the public health threat from aircraft operations at SMO continue to pile up.

For those who chant the misguided argument that SMO neighbors knew there was an airport here when they moved here, let me offer some game-changing facts:

In the mid 1980's to the mid-90's, several million dollars were spent upgrading SMO to accommodate private jet traffic. The upgrade included the removal of the grass-covered dirt berm located directly east of the runway, what was then the only possible relief from aircraft impacts to the immediate airport neighbors. All this work was done without an Environmental Impact Assessment to address what the affects would be on the surrounding communities by this new growth of private, corporate, and fractional-shared jet traffic at SMO. These same jets now account for almost all of the measured noise violations, a huge amount of toxic air pollution, and the most serious safety concerns. To compare the airport of yesteryear with the jet-setter airport of today is like comparing a dirt road to the Santa Monica Freeway.

Many of you already know about recent efforts by the City of Santa Monica to ban the faster C & D categories of aircraft due to the fact that there exist NO runway safety areas in the event of an aircraft overrun or undershoot. The FAA argued that since no C & D aircraft have ever had an accident at SMO there is no problem. The FAA prevailed in the D.C. District Court (see attached decision). The City of Santa Monica chose not to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

More safety concerns have come to light recently. You be the judge whether or not safety is being compromised around Santa Monica Airport. I'll start with the most recent.

I received a call on Sunday from Josh, a father who has been involved with Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution. There was an urgency in his voice as he informed me that a huge jet was caught in a gust of wind as it was on approach to land at SMO. With the information Josh supplied, I investigated the incident on WebTrak and I followed up with Airport Operations Administrator, Stelios Makrides.

According to Josh here is how the incident unfolded. It was a very windy Sunday, March 18. The wind had been blowing hard all day, the strongest in Josh's recent memory. So once his kids woke from their naps, at approximately 4:15 p.m., they went outside to fly their kite.

In Josh's words:

Winds typically blow west to east so we fly the kite towards our home.  Our neighbor was outside along with her children, husband and adult sister. The kite was flying approximately 10 feet above the top of our home (approximately 30 feet) when the enormous jet passed directly over the kite at approximately 4:25 p.m.

At that point it couldn't have been more than 200 feet higher than the kite (my guess would be more like 100).  Since we were all watching the kite and because the jet was so close to it (providing for an unusual perspective) we all turned to watch it land. Our home is located 300 yards east of the runway where the jet was going to land.  The jet must have experienced a significant wind gust just after it passed over our home because the wings turned from the normal 3 and 9 clock position to more like 10 and 4. I lived in our house for 10-plus years and have seen many planes abort a landing for no apparent reason. This plane was going to crash if the pilot failed to pull up—there is NO DOUBT. Despite the landing gear being deployed and the plane less than 100 yards from the runway, the pilot increased the altitude and veered north—at extremely lower than normal altitude.

So, after getting the call from Josh, I went to WebTrak and looked at the activity information provided for the date and time. The plane Josh was referring to was a G4 (Gulf Stream IV), the largest allowed at SMO. There was no N-number associated with the aircraft for me to check on ownership. I have also attached to this post the computer screen image of the flight track for the complete maneuver. The path that this huge jet took to return for a second attempt to land very much disturbed me.

The large jet continued straight out over Santa Monica's Sunset Park to about 16th street, made a sharp turn along 16th street to about Pico Boulevard, and continued over and adjacent . The jet eventually found its way back to SMO and landed.

Since this occurred on a Sunday, SMO staffers were not immediately available, so I had to wait until Monday to call Airport Operations Administrator, Stelios Makrides for further information. It is interesting to note that there are incidents that the community never gets wind of, and this I believe is one of those.

Without going into any details about what I heard from Josh, and what I learned, I asked Stelios if anything unusual occurred at said date, time, and place. He graciously checked and returned letting me know that there was no declared emergency. We discussed it further. I asked why did the plane do a missed approach?  He said that it did not perform a missed approach, but rather a circle-to-north.

Apparently, in clear visibility, planes that file an instrument flight plan can accept a visual approach to land. If something occurs to make the pilot decide not to land (like a huge wind) the pilot can then circle-to-north and avoid the longer return route of a missed approach. All this information is new to me and as always I am concerned about how it translates to excessively burdening  the densely populated neighborhoods in the vicinity of SMO.

I asked Stelios, "Why did the plane go around if it was not a missed approach?"

He listened again to the tower audio and said the tower was unaware of a reason for the pilot's decision not to land. At this point I said that I planned on writing about this. Stelios said he would try to contact the pilot and get back to me. As I mentioned earlier, I can't check on ownership because this aircraft  is registered to have the N-number blocked. It was not too long before Stelios called me back to inform me that the pilot said it was wind conditions that made him decide not to land. The tower then asked the pilot if he would like right-traffic (tower speak for circle-to-north). The pilot said yes.

Stelios also said that I was the only inquiry about this event. It seems that there are circumstances behind a good portion of noise pollution, air pollution, and safety threats that the community is unaware of.

Here's another incredible one we would not have known about: One plane did 38 non-stop circles around Venice, Mar Vista, Cheviot Hills, Rancho Park, North Westdale and Santa Monica.

At 9 a.m. Feb. 28,  Joan and I heard a mostly continuous aircraft noise for almost an hour that Joan thought was coming from one plane. I went on WebTrak to check, and was amazed at what I found. Joan was right; it was one plane circling SMO. I pressed to see the full track option and found an incredible sight. You can see for yourself (also attached). Remember this is all from one aircraft flying circles around SMO.

I called Stelios Makrides, Airport Operations Administrator, to ask him about it. He had already received a complaint and he knew what I was inquiring about. He told me that it was a box pattern, something I never heard of before. I asked what's a box pattern? He said that sometimes after an aircraft has maintenance performed on it, it needs to fly continuously for a length of time to check it out or to break it in or something like that.

The plane was a Cirrus SR22; Tail# N1163C

I went back to WebTrak to review it some more. The plane flew the box pattern for one hour and 50 minutes, from 9 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. It flew between 2,000 feet and 3,000 feet elevation. On the computer screen snapshot attached, it shows that at 9:04 a.m. it was at 1,995 feet.

It circled 38 times according to Santa Monica resident Lloyd Saunders, who also viewed it on WebTrak.

I have heard this noise before and wondered what it was. It is a constant hum that becomes the background noise. It is annoying and unpleasant.

This is an increased danger to us as well as an increased exposure to lead from aviation gasoline. It all adds up to INCREDIBLE.

Here's yet another example of how Santa Monica Airport flies
in the face of the community concerns.

Justice Aviation – Santa Monica Airport  GROUPON - Flight Experience for Two...each passenger gets a chance to man the controls and try steep turns while flying over the Santa Monica Pier, Malibu Hills, and scenic landmarks. Over 350 bought!

That's 350 possible steep turns in the hands of the not-licensed to fly. Oh, but it's legal!

The interests of the communities that are negatively impacted by Santa Monica Airport, especially the Los Angeles communities of Venice, Mar Vista, North Westdale, and other West Los Angeles areas, are, have been, and will continue to be soft-peddled by the city of Santa Monica, and overlooked completely by the FAA and other aviation interests. These communities need to join together in one strong credible voice that will resonate so that it will be impossible to ignore.
This airport needs to be shut down for so many reasons.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Fry June 05, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Likewise, Josh--likewise.
Old School September 15, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Santa Monica Airport has been there since 1924. I bet everyone currently living around SMO moved there knowing they were next to an airport. They made that choice, no one forced them to live there! "I made a choice, now change the World around me to give me what I want." This is their myopic view which is a spin off of "Me Generation", except on steroids. They don't care how these narcissistic demands hurt other people. The problem we have in today's World is that people listen to these complainers. I once served on a "Blue Ribbon Committee" to address what people where calling blight. The goal was to limit all parking, street and driveway, to just cars. People actually testified in front of this committee that a jet ski on a trailer 150 feet into a backyard driveway offended them when they see it from the sidewalk. They used to call these people a Peeping Toms and put them in jail. Now there is little you can do with these types of narcissistic people. There is no price to be paid anymore when people behave like this. They will lie, cheat and steel to get their way and no one will call them on it. I hope SMO remains, but I don't give it good odds
Greg Fry September 16, 2012 at 07:15 AM
Your rambling and dishonest comments make no sense. Read the above comments and documentation before weighing in on a subject where you betray your ignorance.
an interested observer September 16, 2012 at 06:58 PM
maybe, what's he's trying to say is that "since you can see SMO from your backyard" it's got to go?
Greg Fry September 17, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Sop he assumes that I can "see SMO from my back yard"? Well, not to belabor the point, but that would be another incorrect assumption to add to his other incorrect assumptions. We do have some on topic responses above--it's a shame that he didn't reference such before attempting to present his position with absolutely no backup nor reference to previous posits.

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