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.