KEN EDWARDS CENTER — Residents don’t trust the FAA and have asked City Hall to hire an independent research firm to track the number of planes flying over their homes and how great the noise impacts are to their quality of life.

Members of the Airport Commission on Monday responded to residents’ complaints of increased noise from takeoffs at Santa Monica Airport with a call for an independent analysis of Federal Aviation Administration data.

Since the FAA in December began an experimental flight path for some small piston-powered planes, residents in Sunset Park and Ocean Park have filed scores of noise complaints with SMO, hoping to derail any potential attempt to make the test route permanent after the six-month trial expires June 8.

The test requires the piston-powered planes to fly north toward the Santa Monica Pier before they reach the coast, a change aimed at keeping the planes out of airspace shared with jets in order to cut down on delays at both SMO and LAX.

While the FAA has maintained that on average only about a dozen planes per day have been directed to take the experimental takeoff route, residents say they’ve noticed a far greater increase in plane traffic over their homes.

The vote by the Airport Commission on Monday could sort out who’s telling the truth.

Though the FAA has said its experimental takeoff route only applies to a small number of planes flying under what’s known as “instrument flight rules,” residents have said they suspect planes that fly under “visual flight rules” also have also been directed to take a different takeoff route when leaving SMO, resulting in more fly-over noise.

In recommending an independent review of the FAA’s flight pattern data, the commission said data for planes flying under both instrument and visual flight rules should be analyzed.

While residents believe the planes subject to the test route are having a significant noise impact on their neighborhoods, “there may be other components of the FAA’s guidance that are resulting in considerable impact as well — none of which has been very publicly discussed by the FAA,” said Airport Commission Vice Chair Richard Brown.

FAA Spokesman Ian Gregor said it’s true that air traffic controllers occasionally direct pilots flying under visual flight rules to follow a route that takes them over Sunset Park and Ocean Park, but that it happens “between zero and five times a day.”

He also said it’s a long-standing practice that only recently has drawn regular complaints and noted that pilots don’t need FAA approval to fly over neighborhoods.

“If a [visual flight rules] pilot wants to turn right immediately after taking off, they’re free to do that,” he said.

Of the commission’s recommended flight path review, he said: “The city’s free to spend its money as it sees fit,” adding that the FAA has reviewed every noise complaint it has received and determined that the vast majority of complaints are not in response to planes subject to the test takeoff route.

About 100 people showed up for the commission’s meeting.

Andre Nemec, a member of the Ocean Park Association’s ad hoc committee on airplane noise, said he was pleased with the commission’s response.

He said the fact that the FAA has reported big gains in jet takeoff efficiency since beginning the takeoff route test in December indicates more than just a handful of planes per day have been affected.

“The commission wants the FAA to be forthcoming and open with all of their data,” Nemec said. “The massive air traffic over Santa Monica is staggering, especially over the Ocean Park and Sunset Park communities.”

nickt@www.smdp.com

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