Residents in Santa Monica are not happy with the FAA's decision to change the flight path for piston-powered planes, sending more over homes. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM AIRPORT — The complaints have been flooding in-boxes and tying up phone lines at Santa Monica Airport in recent weeks, the result of a concerted effort by nearby residents to oppose what they say is an unacceptable level of airplane noise caused by a shift in the takeoff routes of some low-flying propeller planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration in December began a six-month test aimed at reducing delays at LAX and SMO that required small, single-engine piston planes to take an alternate route when taking off from Santa Monica. The new route, which residents say has resulted in heavy airplane traffic over their homes, was meant to cut down on the amount of time that the small planes take to vacate airspace shared with jets.

The small planes will revert to their customary flight pattern June 8, but residents are worried the test route could become permanent if their concerns are ignored.

“It’s terrible. The change has been profound,” said Ocean Park resident Lori Nafshun. “Not only is it so much noise, you can see the underbellies of the planes and you can read the numbers on them.”

The FAA has said it plans to evaluate the test’s results and conduct an environmental review before making any permanent changes. While no decision has been reached, FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor said “preliminary test results indicate a significant reduction in aircraft delays at both SMO and LAX” due to the experimental route.

Anger over airport noise appears to be mounting, despite the fact that SMO officials say only a small percentage of takeoffs from the airport have been affected by the FAA test route.

SMO Airport Manager Bob Trimborn said on average 16 small, propeller planes that are subject to the test route fly out of SMO each day, compared with hundreds of daily operations that haven’t been affected by the test.

But awareness of the FAA test has nevertheless provoked impassioned responses.

Last month, the Ocean Park Association and the Friends of Sunset Park, the neighborhood groups that represent the areas closest to the airport, together spent $1,300 on fliers that went to 10,000 households, notifying residents about the flight test and explaining how to submit noise complaints, said Zina Josephs, chair of Friends of Sunset Park.

Nafshun said the most recent OPA board meeting attracted the biggest crowd in recent memory because of widespread anger over airplane noise. In response, the OPA board has set up an ad hoc committee that already has 25 members to address concerns related to the FAA test, she said.

The neighborhood groups’ efforts are being felt at SMO.

Accustomed to receiving about six noise complaints per week before the test began in December, SMO’s noise management and operations supervisor, Stelios Makrides, said he received about 750 complaints in April. Since December, about 1,000 messages complaining about noise related to 4,500 operations have been received.

The complaints are being forwarded to the FAA, which, Gregor said, is “in the process of validating each complaint by comparing radar data with the time of the complaint.”

In an interim report on the progress of the test released in March, the FAA said the test route is geared toward reducing pollutants released by idling planes awaiting takeoff at SMO and LAX and saving money wasted on needlessly spent fuel. The average number of delay minutes per month was down 85 percent, according to the interim report.

Josephs, though, said the “maddening” impacts on residents aren’t worth the possible benefits.

“It’s ludicrous. When you balance out the pros and cons of doing it, it just seems totally out of whack,” she said.

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