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Members of the Friends of the Airport Jonathan Dekhtyar (left) and Rob Himmler stand next to a Cirrus SR22 at the Justice Aviation hanger at the Santa Monica Airport on Sunday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SMO — The Santa Monica Airport has its share of enemies, or at least vehement detractors, but now it can claim to have a group of friends.

A new community organization called Friends of the Santa Monica Airport, or FOSMO, formed in November 2010 with the aim of promoting aviation and educating neighbors and others about what actually goes on at the embattled airport.

FOSMO’s membership, approximately 130-strong, is comprised of pilots, flight instructors and mechanics dedicated to the art of flight.

It’s continuing mission: To promote aviation at Santa Monica Airport; to educate the public as to the past, present and future benefits of aviation and thereby protect its community.

“FOSMO was formed to give pilots, certified instructors and mechanics a voice and place to rally for aviation,” said President Robby Robotham.

And aviation, at least in Santa Monica, needs the support.

The airport has found itself embroiled in controversy, both in litigation between the Federal Aviation Administration and City Hall, as well as complaints from neighbors regarding noise, pollution and perceived danger.

Those fears were fueled by the 2010 death of a pilot who crashed into the nearby Penmar Golf Course.

In March, Los Angeles City Council members Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn further attacked SMO by introducing a resolution to support the closure of flight schools at the airport.

Rather than take on City Hall, or any of the other groups politicizing the airport and its flight schools, FOSMO wants to build goodwill by having open, honest and educational conversations with the public.

Youth outreach is a huge part of the agenda, from presentations in schools to helping with field trips to the airport.

On March 5, the group hosted Boy Scout troops from as far as Palmdale and Long Beach for a day of activities to help the boys earn their aviation merit badge.

The scouts learned about emergency procedures, participated in quiz games, got to build paper planes and then sit in the real thing.

It’s a great place for kids to appreciate the discipline, training and dedication it takes to become a pilot, said Howard Israel, a flyer with 32 years flight experience.

Joe Justice, owner of Justice Aviation, the largest flight school at SMO, hosts many of the events.

He also hears a great deal about the dangers of the airports, and the threats against his own business and livelihood.

“There hasn’t been a flight instructor and student injured in 17 years,” he said.

There’s a reason.

Even after pilots certify, which can take over a year in itself, they must fly with an instructor minimally every two years to maintain their certification.

Different kinds of airplanes, or different kinds of flight techniques, including flying in clouds or using instruments, require whole new certifications with additional training procedures.

It takes a certain kind of person to put themselves through all of that to take on an expensive, and sometimes grueling, hobby, and the SMO community formed FOSMO to introduce that face of flying to Santa Monicans.

ashley@smdp.com

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