SMO — Residents living near Santa Monica Airport are hoping pilots will take City Hall up on a program that funds mufflers for propeller planes, but pilots are skeptical.
City officials tested the mufflers in December of 2012 and found them to be effective. Residents who took part in the test were also pleased with the results.
“It was incredible,” said John Fairweather, who suggested the program to City Hall. “Especially as the aircraft moved away from you. As soon as it passes the point where you’re standing, essentially, you can’t hear it anymore.”
The pilot program, which was approved at the last City Council meeting, reimburses propeller plane owners with $3,500 per plane, or half the cost of the retrofitting job, whichever is cheaper. Up to $200,000 can be disbursed by City Hall for this program.
Joe Justice, who owns Justice Aviation and let city officials install a muffler on one of his planes for the tests, said he’s not planning on utilizing the reimbursement. Justice Aviation is a flight school.
“The general consensus is that it’s not going to help,” he said. “If the city wanted to pay for all of it, that would be fine. I think the city realizes this is not going to change the attitudes of the people who want the airport closed.”
Residents living near the airport have for years lobbied City Hall to close the SMO or drastically reduce the number of flights there out of concern for safety. Some homes are located as close as 300 feet from the end of the runway and there are fears that a pilot could overshoot it and hit homes.
The City Council has gone so far as to enact a ban on certain types of jets, a ban which was thrown out by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Residents hope City Hall will be able to make changes to operations come 2015, when an operations agreement with the FAA is expected to expire.
Justice said he did not notice a dramatic difference with the mufflers installed. If the economy were stronger, and neighbors were more open to compromise, he’d consider installing the mufflers, he said.
“They aren’t asking for something, they’re asking for all,” Justice said. “With that attitude on part of neighbors, City Council, and the Airport Commission, I’m not sure what they’re asking for: ‘This will make it better before we kill you.’ They’ve made it clear that they want no airport at all.”
Martin Rubin, founder of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said the mufflers could be a small, but positive change.
“I think as far as Santa Monica Airport impacts go, it’s less significant than the overall impacts,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d say it’s insignificant, but the major impacts are more important to focus on: Environment, safety, noise as well, but there are noisier things that are going with the jets.”
The muffler retrofitting program does not work for jets, which account for the majority of noise violations, according to the Airport Commission’s Annual Noise Report.
Fairweather said that loud noise isn’t the only problem at the airport. A majority of flights at SMO are made by propellor planes, and they stay in the area for extended periods of time.
“For pattern flying in particular, what drives you crazy is that it just goes on and on and on,” he said. “You hear it go all the way around the loop, and then go back again, and then it gets louder. With the muffler installed, even when it’s the closest point to you, as soon as it gets past you, you don’t hear it go around the rest of the loop. During the four or five minutes it takes to get around the rest of the loop, you get some peace and quiet in between, which you don’t get otherwise.”
Ultimately, given that it’s a voluntary program, Fairweather said he’s relying on the pilots: “I just hope the flight schools take the city up on the offer.”