The City Council green-lit plans to shorten the runway at Santa Monica Airport Wednesday by removing over 700 feet of take off and landing space at both ends.
Construction, tentatively scheduled to begin this fall, may require the airport to completely close for three to seven days, according to a report from engineering consultants at AECOM, while the rest of restriping will be done overnight. Crews will repair the runway, relocate lights and repaint.
The shorter runway will effectively shut down business jet charters at SMO, according to a report from airport planning firm Coffman Associates. However, most personal and corporate jets will still be able to fly out of the airport. Overall, the shortened runway will reduce jet operations by 44 percent, from around 16,300 flights per year to 9,000 with an annual increase in traffic between five to ten percent.
“The new runway is going to be FAA compliant for the first time,” Senior Airport Advisor Nelson Hernandez said in an interview with the Daily Press. Hernandez said the existing 5,000-foot runway did not have sufficient runway protection zones, with 141 houses in the RPZ. The new runway design reduces the number of homes to 25.
“That’s over a hundred fewer families who are in the danger zone,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez expects construction will be completed by the end of the year. Because the existing runway will be reutilized, the City says the project is exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Despite an outcry from neighbors and a recommendation from the Airport Commission, immediate construction will not include removing the excess 1,500 feet of asphalt no longer in use by the airport.
“If all you are able to achieve by the end of this year is a painting of a line on the runway then I feel you ought to be ashamed of yourself for failing the people who have made it clear they want this airport closed,” Gavin Scott, a Santa Monica resident whose home is currently in the RPZ, told the City Council during a special meeting.
Scott says about twelve airplanes fly directly over his house every day. He says each time the rumbling of overhead engines is jarring.
“It’s like someone ripping your brain. It is tearing. You cannot speak. The windows rattle. Your children cannot play in the garden. It is as if the jet is coming through your garden. Again and again and again every day.”
The City Council directed staff to come back to them in the future with options to remove the excess asphalt, but stipulated it will be a separate project. Hernandez says completing the construction and design in phases will help neighbors get immediate relief from air traffic and noise. Deviations from the newly striped runway onto the excess pavement would violate FAA regulations, according to Hernandez who says the City is looking into video cameras for enforcement.
“The yellow chevrons will make the airport a 3,500 foot runway and that’s what counts,” Hernandez said. He expects to be back before the Council with additional plans in August.
The City is currently dealing with two lawsuits that seek to overturn the consent decree with the FAA that allows Santa Monica to shorten the runway and eventually close it for good in 2028. In February, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) along with several other business and aviation groups petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to review the agreement. Three Circuit Court judges recently denied the NBAA’s motion to halt all construction until the court can review the settlement.
Other airport activists point out the City is losing critical infrastructure in the case of a major emergency by shortening the runway and eventually closing SMO.
“Shortening the runway by any distance leaves pilots fewer options in the case of an emergency,” said David Hopkins, vice president of the Santa Monica Airport Association. “Choosing to shorten the runway is clearly a political move which will have negative impacts on safety at the airport.”
Representatives from the offices of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin and Congresswoman Karen Bass complained SMO also effects their constituents. City staff did not publicly present a runway reconfiguration that would have moved the landing strip west, away from Los Angeles neighborhoods.
“SMO has long disproportionately impacted the City of LA residents through what I think is a concerted effort to shift noise and air pollution away from the City of Santa Monica,” said Jeff Thomas, a representative from Councilmember Bonin’s office.