A Ryan PT 22 taxis down the Santa Monica Airport runway on Friday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SUNSET PARK — There could be fewer delays and less pollution emitting from Santa Monica Airport and Los Angeles International Airport as the FAA prepares to roll out new departure rules aimed at cutting down idling on runways.

Starting Dec. 1, piston-powered planes departing west from SMO will turn once they reach an altitude of 400 feet above sea level, changing an existing protocol that requires a turn at the shoreline.

The new flight track is meant to address delays at both airports caused by a procedure that times departures from SMO and LAX to avoid a mid-air collission or conflict, a safety measure that is deemed necessary because of the close proximity between the runways.

The delays at SMO and LAX can be as long as 20 and 15 minutes, respectively.

“This will keep SMO departures on a parallel path with LAX departures, and they will maintain the required 3-mile distance from LAX departures at all times, thus eliminating the need to hold departures at either airport,” Ian Gregor, the FAA spokesman, said.

During the maximum 180-day pilot period, federal officials will not only compile data on delays, but for noise complaints as well.

“The result will determine what eventual course of action we’ll pursue, and what level of environmental review and community involvement is required,” Gregor said.

The changes will not affect jets or turboprop planes, impacting only the piston-planes because they fly slower than their larger and more powerful counterparts. There are between 12 and 20 SMO piston-engine planes that depart from Santa Monica every day.

The new departure procedure is drawing concerns from residents in Sunset Park about whether the planes would fly too closely over homes.

Bob Trimborn, the Santa Monica Airport manager, said the exact location of where the plane would turn will depend on weather conditions, pilot performance and the type of aircraft, noting that the heavier ones will climb more slowly.

The turns for most will take place around the center of Penmar Golf Course.

Cathy Larson, a long-time Sunset Park resident, said that as the planes turn north, they will be going over the Sunset Park neighborhood which is already significantly elevated above sea level.

“How close will they end up being to the homes?” Larson said. “And there’s obviously going to be additional noise impacts.

“It sounds like they’re trying to espouse one safety protocol and maybe endangering another.”

Residents and city officials also criticized the FAA for not holding a public hearing on the changes. Gregor refuted the claim that the FAA skipped out on a hearing with the Airport Commission last month, noting that the agency never committed to one and briefed city officials on the test in July and September.

In recent report to the commission, Trimborn wrote that the FAA had changed its position regarding a public outreach program for the proposed departure procedures. He said it was anticipated that the FAA would make presentations to the commission and the City Council to explain the reasons for the changes to the procedure.

The commission is scheduled to discuss the changes on Monday.

“Staff expressed its disappointment to the FAA that it had chosen not to conduct a public hearing in this regard,” Trimborn wrote. “However staff continues to work with the FAA to stay abreast of any technical issues or changes related to the test, which staff will pass along to the City Manager, the Airport Commission and the public.

Martin Rubin, the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said that because SMO borders Los Angeles to the south and east, it’s only fair that noise and air pollution impacts be considered on a regional basis.

“How piston as well as jet aircraft flight procedures affect Los Angeles area residents also needs to be considered,” he said.

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