SMO — City Hall is sharply criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to conduct public hearings before implementing an experimental takeoff route for some small propeller planes at Santa Monica Airport that area residents say has resulted in a steady stream of noisy, low-flying aircraft over their homes.
In a statement released Wednesday, City Hall said it requested that the FAA hold public meetings ahead of the six-month test that began in December, but the agency declined. City Hall will “not accept such disregard of the city and its residents in the future,” the statement continued.
On Thursday, FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor denied his agency had failed to properly notify residents about the test.
“The suggestion that the public was somehow kept in the dark about this test is completely false,” he said.
Before implementing the experimental route, FAA officials met with City Hall’s airport operators and explained what the test would entail, he said, and also publicized the test to local media beforehand. In March, the FAA issued an interim report on the test, which is accessible on the airport’s website.
“Public meetings are not the only way to do public outreach,” Gregor said. He added: “Nothing prevented the airport from holding a meeting on its own.”
The FAA’s test route affects only small piston powered planes, which Airport Manager Bob Trimborn said make up just 1 percent of the 155 daily takeoffs at SMO, but has nevertheless sparked an outcry from residents in Sunset Park and Ocean Park.
Residents like Lisa Hughes, the chairperson of an ad hoc committee to address the issue recently formed by the Ocean Park Association, say they’ve noticed a drastic spike in airplane noise since the test began and are skeptical of claims it involves so few planes.
Hughes said she rarely noticed planes flying overhead before December but now counts as many as 20 planes per hour — some of them jets and many of them propeller planes — above her home.
“I’m just very sad that they would do something like this and say that we were notified when we weren’t,” she said.
Besides noise pollution, she said the added airplane traffic also creates a safety concern: “They’re flying over our kids’ schools,” she said.
The planes that had to alter their takeoff procedures under the FAA’s test will revert to their normal takeoff patterns June 8. But the test route, which the FAA has said appears to be reducing flight delays at SMO and LAX, could become permanent pending an environmental review. The test route is aimed at reducing delays by clearing airspace that the smaller planes share with jets.
Trimborn said City Hall has begun analyzing noise data collected during the test period and plans to present its results to the Airport Commission in June.
The test has required small, single-piston propeller planes to fly toward the Santa Monica Pier after takeoff, crossing homes in Sunset Park and Ocean Park as they ascend. Previously, the planes’ route was directly from the runway to the coastline, Trimborn said.
Gregor said the FAA is yet to determine what type of environmental review process would be required should the agency seek to make the test route permanent. The review process would be conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We will forward the test results to FAA environmental specialists, who will review the results and applicable regulations to determine the degree of environmental review that’s required,” Gregor said.
He said he believed the review process would include a public comment period.