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Proposal Could Slash SMO Flight Ops by Nearly Half

Airport Commission proposes new law based on precedents here and in New York.

In an effort to quickly reduce noise and pollution from Santa Monica Airport, the Santa Monica Airport Commission has recommended the city enact a Flight Operations Reduction Rule that would slash the number of flights.

The proposed law would limit daily flights to 53 percent of those from the prior year. It would apply to all aircraft and be administered through a permit process.

The proposal is based in part on a 1998 case in which New York City successfully used its ownership powers at a heliport to reduce sightseeing flights by 47 percent, and to phase out weekend operations.

In the relatively short legal battle that followed, federal courts upheld the city's action. The suit was between the city and the helicopter company; the Federal Aviation Administration did not take part.

Santa Monica's shorthanded Airport Commission sent the proposed law to the City Council, despite a caution from the city attorney and the reluctance of Commissioner Stephen Mark.

Mark joined in the 3-0 vote, but said the city should concentrate on measures to severely modify or shut down Santa Monica Airport's aviation operations in 2015, . (The FAA says more recent pacts extend that agreement to 2023).

But Vice-Chair David Goddard said the council and staff have indicated they're open to "measured and reasonable" steps that can be taken before 2015 to mitigate the airport's negative impacts. He contends FORR fits that definition.

Specifically, Goddard believes FORR would address noise, pollution and safety concerns over repetitious pattern flying by Santa Monica Airport's six flight schools. Recently, the City Council, after taking off from Santa Monica.

The city attorney and planning director, in a recent memo, agreed the city may be able to use its proprietary rights in trying to soften the airport's negative effects sooner than 2015. But they said the New York case "is of limited utility to Santa Monica" because New York had no contractual obligation to the FAA and Santa Monica does—at least to 2015.

Goddard, however, said the FAA's anticipated disapproval could be argued in court on the same constitutional grounds that brought victory to New York. In addition, he said, federal courts have upheld Santa Monica Airport's curfews, bans on helicopter training and touch-and-go operations, and noise limits, based on its proprietary powers.

With the airport's "visioning process" now in Phase 3—the final phase—city staffers presented an update to the commission Monday night. It listed goals such as installing electric power units to replace emission-producing diesel-fueled auxiliary power units; developing a strategy for providing non-leaded fuel; reducing idling time; and improving blast walls. In addition, staff plans two more public workshops concurrent with future Airport Commission meetings.

Vice-Chair Goddard responded by expressing concern over spending money for new power units and blast walls at this point.

"With all respect," he said, "staff has not been advocating the position of the community. [Staff] recommendations in Phase 3 represent the pilots' talking points, which represent 20 percent of the people attending the [Phase 2] workshops.''

"We need, as a body, to make recommendations based on what the community's desires are, regardless of what staff says at this point," he continued.

Bart August 02, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Natalie, lots of people earn their livings in general aviation, which is only a part of the larger aviation and transportation industry. Airline pilots and other professionals get their starts in general aviation. Some go back and forth as job opportunities change. It's an equal opportunity field in which anyone with reasonable intelligence and physical dexterity can succeed. Sex, race and ethnic background don't count. However, at nearly every airport in the nation, there is a small band of ignorant neighbors who seek to shut that airport down. They are almost always newcomers who complain about the same things you cite. So Santa Monica is not unique. The FAA has stated that the airport will not close in 2015. Neither I nor any other pilot will "change" regardless of how you "do feel."
Bart August 03, 2012 at 04:10 AM
If you can't spell "airplane," you've never seen "cowboy pilots." And we "cowboys" are not scared.
Bart August 03, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Just leave. You're an insult to intelligence. Want clean air? Move offshore.
Jenna Chandler August 03, 2012 at 04:41 AM
If this comment board starts be used solely for spats between a small number of readers, I will shut off comments. Don't make me do it!
Mike E. August 25, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Sooner or later developers are going to get their hands on our airport and we'll all wish the airport was back. Developers would use mixed use to pack as many people and shoppers into the area as possible which translates to many thousands of new car trips a day in an area where bumper to bumper traffic is already routine. There's also another use for the airport no one seems to care about. When the Big One comes, there will be no way in or out of Santa Monica except by sea. PCH will be closed by landslides, the 405 and highways north will be closed by collapsed overpasses, exiting to the south would take you through 100 miles of urban development, exiting to the east, even if the highways are intact would take you through 75 miles of congestion. Medical supplies, food, and water could be brought in through SMO and injuries that our overburdened hospitals couldn't take care of could be evacuated through SMO. Personally I don't have a dog in this race, other than the two points I mentioned. I've lived in Santa Monica 36 years, I'm not a neighbor of the airport, and I'm not a pilot. I agree with those who point out if you're concerned about an airplane crashing into your house, don't buy a house next to an airport. In fact don't buy a house anywhere because where you find houses, you'll also find aircraft and helicopters overhead and in very rare instances they do fall out of the sky. The day SMO closes is the day the developers arrive.

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