In the past two months, a flight school has sold more than 480 coupons for discounted pilot lessons. The success, however, has raised questions at City Hall about whether such promotions come at the detriment of airport neighbors.
In its first Groupon ad, Justice Aviation enticed novice pilots with this language: "man the controls and try steep turns while flying over the Santa Monica Pier, Malibu Hills, and scenic landmarks."
The attempt to grow the business nettled some residents who said Justice Aviation was putting their safety in the hands of adventure-seeking amateurs.
So the second ad in May was phrased more delicately. The ability to take steep turns would be "far away from civilization and guided by the instructor" and after the passenger had his thrill, the aircraft would "gently float back to Santa Monica Airport."
It was a deliberate "effort on our part to try to make our neighbors believe reality: that dangerous maneuvers are not being done over their homes," said owner Joe Justice.
At a future meeting, the Santa Monica Airport Commission will discuss whether such ads violate city policy or lease agreements. It will be the first in a series of discussions the commission, which serves as an advisory body to the Santa Monica City Council, intends to hold to examine actions of flight schools that may "increase noise, emissions, and crash risks for surrounding communities."
"To me it looks like a ride in an airplane, does he have the right to do that?" one commissioner questioned in March after Justice Aviation released its first Groupon.
"I do think it's fair to use this an example of activities of a flight school that may or may not be consistient with its [Commercial Operations Permit] and may or may not be consistent with city policy," said
At the commission's March meeting, Deputy City Attorney Ivan Campbell said his hunch was that advertising for flight training services would fall within the perimeters of a COP.
"It’s far fetched for me to believe that people would think I would go into business to not be in business," Justice said. He he won't attend the hearing on his Groupon ad, likely to be held in June, because he believes the commission looks unfavorably at flight schools.
"Until such time the Airport Commission returns to what it once was, a forum represented by both sides... I don’t really desire to partake in any of the meetings," Justice said.
But that's what Brown said he wanted to do. The late chairman said he hoped a hearing would give the flight school the opportunity "to come in and explain [its] action, which might put it an entirely different light than people think it is."