Runway construction clear for take off

Kate Cagle
Daily Press Staff Writer

City leaders are promising a new, safer and shorter runway at Santa Monica Airport by the end of the year. In less than two weeks the City of Santa Monica will begin construction work to remove take off and landing space on both ends of the runway, according to an announcement from the City and a letter that went out to nearby residents.

The letter claims construction will be finished by December 30.

The first phase of construction will begin Monday, Oct. 9 and run through Dec. 20.

During that the runway will be completely closed to aircraft every night from 9:00 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to the letter written by Nelson Hernandez, Senior Advisor to the City Manager.

The second phase will last ten days, where the runway will be completely closed to all aircraft.

City leaders entered into a controversial Consent Decree with the Federal Aviation Administration in January to put an end to a decades-long legal fight over which party effectively controlled SMO.

City leaders say they plan to shut down the airport once they officially gain control over operations in 2028.

In the meantime, the Decree allows the City to remove about 1,500 feet of runway – a move that City leaders say will end business jet charter operations at SMO.

A May report from airport planning firm Coffman Associates estimated the shortened runway will reduce jet operations by 44 percent, from around 16,300 flights per year to 9,000.
News of the impending construction plans have been met with skepticism by nearby homeowners, many of whom have been advocating the airport’s closure for years and were disappointed with the compromises in the Consent Decree.

“Until it happens, it hasn’t happened,” Alan Levenson, founder of No Jets Santa Monica Airport, said of the construction plans over the phone Monday.

Levenson believes the shorter runway may shift the type of aircraft taking off at SMO but he worries advances in aviation, as well as charter jet sharing services, will keep the runway busy. “The claim of 44 percent is a hopeful figure but it’s not proven.”

Levenson and his neighbors advacting for SMO’s closure would like to see an environmental study done on the effects of the airport on air quality in the nearby neighborhood. Because the existing runway will be reutilized as part of the construction, the City says the project is exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

In addition to reduced noise and air pollution, Hernandez says the work will “create six new taxiways within the already utilized and paved areas of the Airport at regular spacing along the re-aligned 3,500-feet runway, providing improved safety for arriving aircraft that overrun the end of the runway; and bring the runway into compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.”

The construction comes as pilot groups, including the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) continue to fight in the hopes of keeping the airport open indefinitely.

The NBAA has challenged the legality of the “highly unusual agreement,” arguing that the closed-door compromise violates mandatory statutory requirements – including a requirement for public notice and input.

“The Agreement should be invalidated and vacated, because it is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” reads a recent brief filed by the NBAA with the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Pilot groups argue restricted access to SMO will burden nearby airports.

“By allowing ‘local control’ driven by a vocal minority, with complete disregard for system-wide impacts, the loss of this critical reliever airport shifts the burden of accommodating air traffic to other area airports and has a major negative impact on area residents, businesses and general aviation and the flying public,” NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said.

The Circuit Court denied the NBAA’s motion to halt construction until the court can review the settlement. The legal battle is only one route aviation groups have used to fight the eventual closure of SMO.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep Ralph Abraham (R-Louisiana), a pilot, introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have stripped federal funding from enforcing the Decree. The amendment was blocked.

The City has approved a park expansion for 12-acres of land adjacent to the airport as part of the on-going saga to transform SMO. Construction plans for the park include synthetic turf sports fields, 60 community gardens and natural landscaping.

 

Half of the land reopened to the public this summer after staff cleaned debris from former airport parking spaces, removed reflectors and plane tie-downs.

kate@smdp.com

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