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Max Hagler (right), an instructor with Justice Aviation, guides student Daniel Markovitz through a pre-flight check of a plane they will be flying at Santa Monica Airport. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — Local governments throughout Southern California are taking a stand against a proposal to pay Santa Monica flight schools to take some of their training flights to other airports.

The item, which appeared on the June 26 City Council agenda, would have set aside $90,000 for a six-month pilot program to reimburse flight schools $150 for some practice flights to be conducted at other airports on weekends and holidays.

A qualifying flight would include at least four takeoffs and landings at the other airport in order to incentivize pilots to do that kind of required training elsewhere.

The policy targets repetitive takeoffs and landings from qualified flight schools, the same kind of flights that Santa Monica residents living near SMO often complain creates constant noise and increases the risk of a crash into the populated neighborhood below.

City officials from other Southern California communities that have airports caught wind of the proposal and had one question: What about us?

“It’s not fair to pass on the burden to other cities,” said James Gazeley, mayor of the city of Lomita, in a phone call Wednesday.

Gazeley wrote a letter to the City Council expressing his concerns that the city of Lomita, which is under the flight path of Torrance Airport, would suffer from the added flights.

He also took issue with a statement in the staff report that suggested that other airports, like Torrance, were “better suited” to accommodate pattern flying.

“The staff report does not indicate, however, that an attempt has been made to determine which other airports are better suited to patterned flying,” Gazeley wrote in the letter.

Gazeley isn’t against Torrance Airport.

His son learned to fly there when he was 10 years old. Now an adult, he makes a living flying private jets.

“Airports are assets and pilots are assets,” Gazeley said.

That doesn’t mean that the residents of Lomita want Santa Monica’s airport traffic in addition to their own, he said.

Neither does Torrance, although Mayor Frank Scotto felt confident that even if the policy was in place, Santa Monica pilots wouldn’t choose his airport.

“From Santa Monica, it would make sense for them to go north of them to Thousand Oaks or Camarillo rather than Torrance,” he said. “They would have to go over the top of LAX.”

If that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, Torrance officials would have to look at other options to prevent the influx of traffic.

Torrance appreciates its airport, and has no intention to close it, Scotto said.

“The other side of that is we don’t want the traffic to increase so existing residents get impacted, either,” Scotto said.

Scotto and Grazeley aren’t alone in their dissent.

The chairs of the Camarillo and Oxnard airport authorities, Kathy Long and Walter Calhoun, co-signed a letter registering their opposition and suggesting that such a program could violate the 1990 Airport Noise and Compatibility Act and would have to be reviewed by the FAA.

Even local anti-airport activists opposed the idea at the meeting Tuesday, saying that the flight schools had “proven themselves untrustworthy” by allegedly circumventing existing bans against repetitive flights and shouldn’t get money to perform such actions elsewhere.

Others seemed tempted by the promise of reduced traffic over their homes.

“The reduction of takeoffs does sound appealing, especially when my house felt like it was being buzzed last night at 1 a.m.,” said Zina Josephs, a resident of Sunset Park.

Ultimately, the council continued the matter to a July meeting on a technicality.

Although four of the council members present were for the program, citing safety as their primary concern, City Councilman Bob Holbrook voted no on the deal. He said he had not heard from a single person who liked the idea.

Because the $90,000 represents an appropriation, the program needed at least five votes to pass.

Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilman Bobby Shriver were not present for the vote.

The issue is expected to resurface next month.

ashley@smdp.com

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