SMO — Flight school owners voluntarily agreed to restrict the hours their planes spend flying over Santa Monica in an attempt to “be a better neighbor” to residents that live near the airport, city officials announced Thursday.
Under the new restrictions, renters and instructors will not fly repeated takeoffs and landings in the “pattern” around Santa Monica Airport after 8 p.m. between the months of November and March and after 9 p.m. the remainder of the year.
They also agreed to stop flying after 8 p.m. on Sundays throughout the year.
The changes will result in 15 fewer hours of pattern flying per week during daylight savings time and 21 fewer hours per week the rest of the year.
“Pattern flying” is a box-like route consisting of four legs within visual distance of the airport. Pilots use pattern flights to hone their skills and maintain their certifications, one of which requires pilots to fly at night.
Residents who live near the airport complain that planes are always in the pattern, subjecting them to constant, disruptive noise and raining lead and other hazardous chemicals upon them and their homes from the exhaust.
Martin Pastucha, director of the Department of Public Works with City Hall, characterized the agreement as “a step in the right direction.”
“I think that it helps with the repetitive nature of the traffic, which is the main complaint that we’ve heard,” Pastucha said.
The reduction will squeeze pilots who need to fly at night to get certificated, but the flight schools believe this is a good compromise to help address neighbor complaints, said Joe Justice, owner of Justice Aviation, the largest flight school at SMO.
Private pilots need to get three hours of night operation and 10 takeoffs and landings before they can get their certificate, Justice said.
Though the new restrictions will make that more difficult, flight instructors can cope with better planning, Justice said.
“We’re trying to offer something that doesn’t hurt us badly and will also have a positive effect for the neighbors,” Justice said. “We voluntarily offered this up without any push from the airport, just trying to make it a more friendly airport.”
While the extra hours of peace will be very welcome, Sunset Park resident Lloyd Saunders is skeptical that it will result in an improvement to the neighbors’ quality of life.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on open heart surgery,” Saunders said.
Reducing the number of hours that instructors and students have to fly at night will just make them cram more flights into the time they do have, increasing the number of planes buzzing overhead, Saunders said.
“In other words, instead of having two planes in the pattern say an hour or two before the deadline, they’ll have three or four,” Saunders said. “They’ll still get their time in.”
Flight schools, airport management and City Hall have been in discussions since September to identify and implement various ways to reduce their impact on the community.
The talks come as 2015 approaches, the year that the flight schools’ leases at the airport expire and City Hall believes that it will get more control over the use of Santa Monica Airport, which is currently dictated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Although no other agreements have been inked, several are in the works, Pastucha said.
One involves student pilots flying to another general aviation airport to practice maneuvers that irk residents of Santa Monica and the Westside if City Hall compensates them for the extra gas needed to get there.
“From the flight schools’ perspective, it’s about time and money. Time in the air also burns fuel,” Pastucha said. “We’re looking at what would be the cost impact of doing something like that, and would the city be willing to mitigate the costs of that.”