The City Council feels a need for speed when it comes to substantially shortening the runway at Santa Monica Airport.
The City will hire the same engineering consultants who have worked on runway projects at major airports like LAX and JFK, AECOM/Aeroplex. The California-based company should have design concepts to show the Council by this spring with a goal of construction by the fall. The City estimates shortening the runway to 3,500 feet will cost $4 million and reduce air traffic at SMO by 40 percent.
When City Manager Rick Cole suggested reconfiguring surrounding roads and adding a possible bike path around the airport might delay construction, the councilmembers balked.
“I would like to include it but if it means an extra year or six months I don’t think I would support that,” Councilmember Tony Vazquez said.
“I would be hesitant to delay the shortening of that runway by 6 weeks, let alone 6 months,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said before adding, “I think that is a priority for us.”
“It’s not six weeks or six days, it’s six minutes with me,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said finally. “I think we should go ahead with what’s proposed here and when they come back with ideas … we can further discuss other ancillary decisions about where streets might be and things like that.”
The shortening of the runway will put City Leaders closer to their goal of closing SMO and eventually turning the area into a park. Activists would like to see hiking and cycling trails circle the new runway and connect with the already existing portion of Airport Park which has expanded to include land once used to park planes.
Representatives from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) were notably absent at the meeting, although they did send a letter to the Council in advance. The NBAA is challenging the Consent Decree signed by the FAA and the City that allows the runway to be shortened from 5,000 feet in court.
The NBAA argues the agreement to shorten the runway and eventually allow SMO to close in 12 years “is invalid because it contradicts federal statutes, regulations and policies” according to the letter addressed to Mayor Ted Winterer.
“We respectfully urge that the City Council defer any vote on the recommendations…until the pending litigation (and thus the legality of any City actions) has been resolved,” the letter said.
City leaders don’t just want to see the runway shortened as quickly as possible, they wish to demolish any excess length to keep it from ever going back. The Airport Commission sent a recommendation to the Council to instruct AECOM to keep the landing strip as short as the FAA will allow.
“I urge you to instruct the airport designers to remove the unused 1,500 feet of concrete as soon as possible,” Commissioner Joe Schmitz said. “If you don’t, it would be possible to bring back a longer SMO and that could recreate the intensive jet operations for an indefinite time.”
Even without shortening the runway, flights are down by 10 percent year over year, according to the City’s monthly air traffic report. In January, 6,018 planes took off from SMO. About 22 percent of those were jets.
City staff members plan to incorporate an interim solution to shorten the runway prior to construction in plans. The contract with AECOM/Aeroplex also includes financial incentives for shortening the runway sooner rather than later. The FAA will have to approve the final version of all plans for safety.