SMO — City Manager Rod Gould has denied two applications for new flight schools at Santa Monica Airport, citing the “particularly intense environmental impacts” the schools would have had.
The move went against a recommendation from Airport Director Bob Trimborn but was in keeping with guidance from the Airport Commission, which last month voted 3-1, with one abstention, to urge denial of the applications.
The schools, the Flight Academy and Angel City Flyers, had sought to operate a maximum of three airplanes for flight instruction.
The Flight Academy, which is based in Washington state, had applied to operate one plane, and would have replaced a one-plane flight school, Sea Side Aviation, that stopped doing business at SMO in October, Trimborn said.
Long Beach-based Angel City Flyers had asked to operate one plane with the possibility of adding a second plane if needed.
Reached on Thursday, Trimborn declined to comment on Gould’s decision but said the denials were the first in his memory.
In letters sent Monday to the flight school operators explaining his decision, Gould gave an account of Trimborn’s support for the new flight schools, noting the airport director believed the permits should be granted “because overall operations have declined in recent years [at SMO]” and the new schools “would likely not alter the overall noise contours of the airport.”
At an Airport Commission meeting in November, the five-member panel discussed concerns about the “repetitive, low altitude operations” that are specific to flight schools and “result in environmental impacts much more significant than those resulting from routine airport usage” before voting to withhold support, according to Gould’s letter.
In siding with the commission’s majority, Gould said it was important to strike a balance between having an adequate number of flight schools and protecting the environment and quality of life for residents who live near the airport.
There are six flight schools at SMO, according to Trimborn — a number that Gould said “may amount to an over concentration in terms of impacts.”
The rejections come as City Hall is preparing to conduct a review of SMO ahead of the expiration in 2015 of an agreement with the federal government to operate the facility. While the FAA disputes the significance of the expiration, Santa Monica officials have argued it will give City Hall more leverage to push for changes at SMO that would mean fewer noise and other pollution impacts for airport neighbors.
To Erick Bryant, director of operations for Angel City Flyers, the rejection came as a surprise.
“On the application we tried to make it clear how focused we are on minimizing the impact on the surrounding community,” he said. “We weren’t successful in conveying that commitment to [the commission].”
Bryant said his company won’t contest the decision but may re-apply. He said Angel City Flyers uses newer planes than some competitors, giving his company a lesser environmental footprint.
“I think the future of Santa Monica’s flight training environment will be newer airplanes,” he said. “I realize the residents would rather have no flight training at the airport, but I’m not sure that’s a realistic goal.”