SMO — Santa Monica Airport officials this week unveiled an online tracking system that will allow people to report the noise issues or improper flight patterns of any airplane flying into or out of SMO.
The system, called Webtrak, shows a color-coded airplane symbol set against a zoomed out map of the surrounding area.
Similar systems are used at LAX, John Wayne Airport and San Diego International Airport, among others.
Users can pick a time that they noticed the airplane, find it on the map and file a complaint about it, which will go immediately to airport officials.
The planes are seen as close to real time as possible, said Airport Manager Bob Trimborn.
“You’ll see flight activity 20 minutes after it happens,” Trimborn said. “That’s for security reasons.”
The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow by-the-minute tracking, but the firm supplying the technology, Brüel & Kjær, cuts down the wait time significantly, Trimborn said.
“The FAA delays transmittal of information to B&K, which massages the data into the format of Webtrak and sends it out to users like us,” Trimborn said. “They dither it for 15 to 20 minutes. With other firms, it’s a day.”
It’s been almost a year since the Airport Commission approved the purchase of the Webtrak system, which cost $6,200 to set up with an annual contract of approximately $17,400, according to Airport Operations Administrator Stelios Makrides.
However, the execution got stalled by the FAA, which had to approve a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to release the radar data used to make the system go.
Because Brüel & Kjær was based out of Europe, the FAA had to get special permission to release the information to a foreign company.
That had to be cleared through the State Department, and the FAA approved the MOA this month, Trimborn said.
“It’s finally resolved, approved and signed,” he said. “Now we’re doing the final tweaking on the display. Once that’s done, we’ll go live with it the first part of next week.”
Several airports were caught in the delays, Stelios said, and it will mean a cheaper contract for the first year.
Activists who attended the meeting said that while they approve of the step, the airport could do more.
“They’re certainly working in the right direction to give the community a chance to efficiently complain about noise and pollution impacts,” said Martin Rubin, a Mar Vista resident and leader in Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, or CRAAP, which has been working to shut down the airport.
The previous complaint system was cumbersome, Rubin said, and many people felt that it was useless to file a complaint because it would be ignored.
“Now you can point to the plane that is the culprit,” Rubin said, noting that the report will go immediately to the airport.
Those complaints will be stored and used for reports, Makrides said. Reporting parties will be called back with exactly what action airport officials took, if any.
Where the system fails, Rubin noted, is that you cannot see noise levels on Santa Monica’s Webtrak because the airport’s noise sensors are analog rather than digital.
Without digital readings, the Webtrak system can’t incorporate the noise information, Makrides said, and the airport has not expressed interest in paying to switch out its functional noise monitoring systems at this point, he added.
Noise will be high on the list of topics at the Airport Commission’s April 25 meeting, when airport staff will present the annual noise report.