SMO— Despite steadily declining airport usage, Sunday’s jet crash was the fourth fatal aviation accident in the vicinity of Santa Monica Airport in less than five years, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
There had been two fatal accidents in the vicinity in the 15 years prior.
The data refer to accidents in which SMO was the closest airport, not accidents which occurred on airport property, said Airport Director Stelios Makrides, but in all aforementioned instances the flights had either departed from or were attempting to land at SMO.
Sunday’s crash, in which all four passengers were killed, including Morley Builders CEO Mark Benjamin and his son Luke, came just weeks after the airport released numbers showing that operations are the lowest since the FAA began keeping track in 1990.
“I can’t tell you what the correlation is,” Makrides said. “Crashes happen when there’s not traffic on Lincoln Boulevard. Crashes happen when there’s not traffic on the PCH. They’re accidents; that’s why they call them accidents.”
There have been 39 accidents in the area of the airport since 1982, according to FAA data. Eight accidents occurred in the past five years. Only two crashes occurred in the seven years prior.
Sunday’s crash was the first major jet accident at the airport, which concerns Airport Commission President David Goddard.
“The jet aircrafts are basically just bombs,” he said. “They carry a lot of fuel. Residents are concerned that a jet that crashes off the runway could take out several houses.”
Bill Dunn, vice president of Advocacy for Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that more accidents occur on Santa Monica streets than at the airport. He said there would have to be a review of FAA records to figure out if the recent jump in crashes was anything more than coincidental.
Flight hours are declining across the country but, Dunn said, Santa Monica’s restrictions and landing fees are accelerating the decline.
“It’s a hard airport because of the curfew,” he said. “And the noise restrictions, you can get hit with a hefty fine.”
Propellor flights are declining in popularity, which could account for some of the decline, Makrides said.
Jet flights, which make up about 12 percent of the total flights, declined 6 percent in 2012. Makrides could not explain the decline.
The FAA recorded 228,000 takeoffs and landings in 1990 compared to 102,000 last year.
Flights are down slightly in the first six months of 2013, Makrides said.
Despite the operations decline, noise violations and complaints were up.
Noise measuring stations monitor aircraft exceeding 95 decibels. Last year, 155 violations were measured compared to 135 the year before, and 116 in 2010. About 99.8 percent of the total flights were in compliance with the noise limit, according to the report.
Complaints are way up over the past three years. In 2009, there were 212 complaints compared to 44,269 in 2010. Complaints jumped from 3,693 to 4,368 between 2011 and 2012.
“I do not know why a person chooses to complain about aircraft noise,” Makrides said.
Goddard said that the change denotes a shift in culture at the airport.
More than 600 households complained, but 48 of the households complained more than 10 times, and 44 households complained between five and 10 times.