SMO — Two Los Angeles City Council members upped the ante in opposition to the Santa Monica Airport Wednesday by moving to make it official policy to pursue a change in the departure path at the airport as well as close six flight schools.
Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl brought the matter before the L.A. City Council at its meeting Wednesday after a group of people that live near the airport approached Hahn Sunday to explain their objections to certain activities at the airport.
The change in flight path to a 250-degree heading from its current 210-degree heading would take planes out of the flight path shared with LAX, which would result in less idling at both airports, and consequently, less pollution, Rosendahl and Hahn argued.
If the changes are made, more planes would fly over Santa Monica, shifting the burden off of Venice residents, and the pollution impacts would be lessened, said Marty Rubin, a member of the group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution.
Nixing the flight schools would significantly reduce the number of airplanes flying and performing maneuvers near the densely-populated area, which residents find threatening, Rubin added.
The proposal came after a meeting with seven members of CRAAP, Rubin said.
The activist group reached out to Hahn, who is considering a run for Jane Harman’s Congressional seat, Rubin said.
“We educate candidates on the issue, and wanted to have her understand what Congresswoman Harman has been doing,” he said.
Opponents of the airport cite a UCLA study that found higher-than-normal levels of superfine particles and 250 times the normal amounts of black carbon in the air near the airport as proof of dangerous pollutant levels that could be mitigated by the course change.
They also point to a fatal accident in July of 2010 at the Penmar Golf Course that claimed the life of a pilot to demonstrate the dangers of allowing the six flight schools to operate near neighborhoods.
Both points, though true, are taken out of context, said SMO manager Bob Trimborn.
The airport must obey both state and federal pollution guidelines, he said, and the standard levels of ultrafine particles haven’t been measured.
A study performed by Phil Fine, a Ph.D. in atmospheric measurement manager for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, noted that no levels for superfine particles emitted by airplanes — and any combustion engine, including household stoves — have been set.
The Federal Aviation Administration performed a study on the proposed 250-degree heading, but encountered roadblocks, said Ian Gregor, spokesperson for the FAA.
“Preliminary results from a six-month test of the proposed heading showed that assigning it to an average of just eight aircraft a day significantly reduced departure delays at both SMO and LAX,” Gregor wrote in an e-mail. “However, our evaluation has taken longer than expected because of the need to analyze the large volume of noise complaints we received from Santa Monica residents during the test period.”
Some 40,000 complaints were raised in the six-month period, Gregor said.
SMO experiences approximately 104,000 flights per year, down from the roughly 230,230 flights recorded at the beginning of 2000 during the dot com boom, Trimborn said.
The “dangerous maneuvering” that the Rosendahl-Hahn press release mentioned are very normal procedures used by both new and experienced pilots at the airport for the last 50 years, Trimborn said.
“Flight training is part and parcel with what public-use airports do,” he said.
The opponents might have more difficulty than they thought fighting the presence of the flight schools because the airport has used federal funding in the past.
“Generally speaking, the operator of an airport that has accepted federal grants could be in violation of its federal grant agreements if it tried to evict a certain type of tenant without just cause,” Gregor wrote.
The council members have a long way to go before their resolution holds weight. First it must pass the council, which will give lobbyists in Washington D.C. the ability to make requests of the FAA on behalf of the city of Los Angeles.
For his part, Nick Ullmann, flight instructor for Proteus Air Services, isn’t going to sweat the future.
“I’m not worried. I do not feel threatened,” he said. “It’s so ludicrous, there’s no way it could come to be.”