CITY HALL — Just a few days following the crash landing of a single-engine plane at Santa Monica Airport, two congressional representatives wrote a letter asking the new FAA administrator to restart negotiations with local city officials over runway safety measures.
The Aug. 5 letter from Congresswoman Jane Harman and Congressman Henry Waxman, whose districts cover the neighborhoods surrounding the airport, requests that J. Randolph Babbitt bring a “fresh perspective” to the issue and fulfill a call to action by the U.S. Congress in May for the FAA and city officials to enter good faith discussions.
“For nearly a decade, we have joined the community, the city of Santa Monica and the Airport Administration to push the FAA to address this serious safety gap,” they stated in the letter. “While the FAA has had discussions with the city, the agency’s response has been marked by delay and ambiguity.”
Harman also sent a separate letter that same day to Babbitt and Deborah A.P. Hersman, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, asking that the investigation into the plane crash be done in the “context of overall safety issues at SMO and with an eye towards ensuring residents and SMO personnel are well protected from future and potentially more devastating incidents.”
The accident on Sunday happened after the pilot, William Davenport of Los Angeles, reportedly lost engine power soon after taking off, attempting to return to SMO where he crashed on the runway upon landing. The plane was a Long-EZ, an experimental aircraft, which is not in the class of planes that’s affected in a local ordinance banning categories C and D jets.
The ban was passed in response to concerns of neighbors, some of whom live less than 300 feet away, that a plane will one day overshoot the runway. The enforcement of the ordinance has been suspended for more than a year as it’s being legally challenged by the FAA.
“This is very important because it continues the decade-long battle that Congressman Waxman and Congresswoman Harman have waged with us on safety issues at Santa Monica Airport,” Kate Vernez, the assistant to the city manager on government relations, said. “We welcome this latest effort to really bring the new administrator into the picture to relook at the safety issues because after all, what we’re trying to do is implement the FAA’s own safety standards at Santa Monica Airport.”
The agency has presented several safety options, including a series of concrete beds meant to give way under the weight of an aircraft. The proposals were rejected by city officials as inadequately addressing their concerns, leading to the adoption of the ban in March 2008.
Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, said that the agency shares in the congressmembers’ desires for the safest possible operations at SMO.
“The FAA spent nearly six years working to address the city’s safety concerns,” he said. “We made a number of proposals that would enhance the airport’s runway safety areas, but the city rejected all of those proposals.
“We remain ready to implement any of those proposals at the city’s request.”
Cathy Larson, who chairs the Friends of Sunset Park Airport Committee, which represents neighbors to the north and west of SMO, said that she believes the legislators used the recent accident to bring to light a safety issue at the airport.
“They’re trying to open the discussion again to see if they can get a viable solution that will really provide safety for the neighborhood instead of the inadequate offers the FAA put to the city in the last couple of years,” she said.
Marty Rubin, who heads Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), said he believes an opportunity for change exists with the new administration.
“This is an intolerable extreme situation that the FAA has turned the blind eye to,” he said.
CRAAP has for years complained about the pollution from jet exhaust to their homes east of the airport. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer several weeks ago wrote a letter to Babbitt asking that the FAA review the request of residents for a study on the environmental impacts of jet exhaust.
“The safety concerns the community has expressed for many years are clear and need to be addressed,” Rubin said.