CITY HALL ¬ó A controversial program to reduce traffic from Santa Monica Airport by paying flight schools to take their students to other airports has stalled in mid-flight.
A four-member City Council voted to table the proposal indefinitely Tuesday evening in the face of overwhelming opposition from residents and officials from cities that would be absorbing the flights, as well as from the individuals the program was meant to help.
The proposal would have set aside $90,000 for a six-month program that officials estimated would direct 4,800 of the most repetitive training flights to other area airports on weekends and holidays.
Flight schools would have been reimbursed $150 for every flight in which a student pilot performed four or more touch-and-goes or other maneuvers in which pilots circle the airport to practice takeoffs and landings.
Residents living near SMO complain about those flights, saying that they create a constant disruption to their lives and impact their health.
Many lobby for outright closure of the airport in 2015, the year that City Hall believes it will regain a measure of control over airport operations after certain obligations to the federal government expire.
In that context, the $90,000 appropriation was considered ¬ìblood money,¬î and opponents insisted instead that the solution wasn¬ít to limit or divert flights, but to shut down the flight schools permanently.
Officials from other cities with airports, notably Camarillo, Torrance and Oxnard, also expressed dismay at the proposal on the basis that the extra flights would bother residents near their airports and clog up their airways.
The program could not be expected to succeed given the amount of uproar, City Manager Rod Gould told council members Tuesday.
¬ìAlthough the experiment was intended to reduce pattern flying above and around Santa Monica and neighboring cities, and with little impact on surrounding airports, I¬íve concluded that public fears and perceptions have escalated to the point that it is impossible to imagine that this test would receive fair and objective evaluation,¬î Gould said.
Those ¬ìneighboring cities¬î did not agree that nearly 5,000 flights that staff proposed to divert from SMO would cause so small of a ripple.
If even three people came to Torrance under the program, it would add at least 12 more loops around South Bay airspace, and likely more, said Frank Scotto, the mayor of Torrance.
Scotto and other officials in cities with airports were upset with the proposal, and felt Santa Monica was trying to unilaterally shove its problems onto the backs of other residents.
¬ìSanta Monica and Torrance are a distance apart, but when it comes to airports, we¬íre neighbors,¬î Scotto said. ¬ìWe have to work out items to make it beneficial to both.¬î
The decision to table the incentives program was a good one, Scotto said, although Torrance and other neighboring cities are still preparing for the eventuality that it will resurface at a later date.
Joe Justice, the owner of Justice Aviation, one of the two largest flight schools in Santa Monica, is one of the people who helped crash the now-dead proposal.
He hopes that the cities and individuals who spoke up so loudly after the program got publicity keep it in mind as 2015 approaches.
If opponents do manage to shut down air traffic at SMO, or even just kick the flight schools out, it could mean a lot more than 4,800 flights on the weekend, he said.
¬ìIf the public response from cities around Santa Monica was so dramatic from the thought of a few training flights going into their airports, what do they think it would be like if they closed SMO and all of the traffic goes there?¬î he asked.