SMO — The Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution Wednesday declaring its intention to support legislation to close the six flight schools operating at the Santa Monica Airport, as well as make permanent a flight path that would send airplanes over Santa Monica homes.
The vote was unanimous.
Councilmembers Janice Hahn, Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz put forward the resolution in March, citing environmental and safety concerns associated with idling jets and fledgling pilots.
According to the resolution, tossing out the six flight schools would improve safety by putting an end to the “numerous practice maneuvers” that the councilmembers claim take place over nearby neighborhoods.
Hahn’s office did not return phone calls requesting information on those practice maneuvers.
The resolution specifically references a July 2010 crash into the Penmar Golf Course, which killed a pilot.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Ian Gregor dismissed allegations against the flight schools, noting that flight schools operate out of a wide range of small airports in the L.A. area.
“Nobody has offered one bit of evidence suggesting that Santa Monica flight school operations are anything but safe,” Gregor wrote in an e-mail. “While certain people have tried to link a July 2010 accident to flight school operations, the fact is that the pilot in that crash was an experienced commercial pilot, and not a student.”
The NTSB has not yet determined the cause of that accident.
Although the resolution only allows lobbyists for L.A. to advocate for the positions, the action was disconcerting for those whose livelihoods depend on the flight schools.
Joe Justice has run his flight school, Justice Aviation, out of SMO for two decades.
“It’s not a good feeling when they take a position that your business should be closed,” Justice said. “On the other side, it also makes me angry, especially when I feel the reason this is happening is probably political.”
The last accident involving a flight instructor and student was 17 years ago, Justice said. That record of success stems from the efforts flight schools take to promote safety and abide by extremely strict — and some voluntary — flight routines to try to accommodate neighbors.
“There have been some rough landings, but they in no way jeopardized the homeowners,” Justice said.
The council members shouldn’t bank on it being possible to kick the flight schools out.
“Generally speaking, the operator of an airport that has accepted federal airport improvement 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. “Santa Monica Airport has accepted federal Airport Improvement Program grants.”
Homeowners on different sides of the airport took mixed positions on the proposed change in flight path.
The council members hold that moving the flight path from a 210-degree heading to a 250-degree heading will prevent flight paths at LAX and SMO from intersecting, thereby cutting down on time pilots spend idling on the runway waiting for the go-ahead to take off.
Those idling planes “spew high concentrations of jet emissions into the neighboring communities,” according to the resolution, which cites studies by UCLA, LAUSD and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The FAA switched SMO to the 250 degree heading in 2010 as part of a six month experiment to determine whether it was a superior route from a safety, pollution and delay standpoint.
The results are not yet in.
“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. “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.”
Martin Rubin, member of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution and resident of Mar Vista, put out a press release applauding the council’s effort.
“SMO has impacted the lives of Westside residents for decades and residents surrounding the airport have complained about the noise the airport generates, and more recently about safety hazards, toxic jet pollution and lead pollution from piston aircraft,” Rubin stated. “Los Angeles residents have felt frustrated that their complaints to Santa Monica officials have fallen on deaf ears.”
The Santa Monica City Council has expressed serious opposition to the 250 flight departure heading, said Kate Vernez, assistant to the City Manager.
“There were profound negative impacts related to the test of the proposed new rules,” Vernez said. “We want to provide alternatives while maintaining neighborhood and aircraft safety.”
Sunset Park residents stand completely against the change, said Zina Josephs, member of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood group.
“We’re definitely opposed to the 250 heading, and it’s based on safety concerns,” Josephs said.
The 210-degree flight path sends planes over the Penmar Golf Course, which sits lower in elevation than some homes in Sunset Park. The 250-degree heading puts planes immediately over 17,000 households, 15 preschools, three elementary schools, one middle school, two high schools and one community college.
“From our point of view, it’s much safer for them to have it over the golf course,” Josephs said.