CITY HALL — Overall traffic at Santa Monica Airport may be down, but neighbors are still riled about noise and they may have a point, according to a consultant who spoke at Monday night’s Airport Commission meeting.
The meeting was a special workshop to present data reflecting on a year of noise monitoring at the airport, including the number of noise violations as well as departures and landings outside of the airport’s strict curfew.
Vince Mestre, a representative of Landrum and Brown, a company that specializes in airport planning, told an eager crowd of 18 that although SMO operations consistently fell within the Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines for operations near residential use, that standard has flaws.
Many residents complained that there must be a mistake in the monitoring that allowed high levels of noise to continue to fly under the radar, but Mestre said that’s not likely.
“The criticism I’ve heard tonight I hear at every airport I go to,” Mestre said in response to calls from commissioners and residents to increase noise monitoring around the airport. “What I’m trying to make you understand is that most of the dispute has less to do with technological issues and more to do with policy.”
One of the biggest perceived issues is that the noise standard was created for commercial airports, and no second standard exists for smaller, general aviation airports like SMO.
“There’s a question if this was the right way to do it at all,” Mestre said, referring to the system by which the FAA gauges acceptable noise levels near residences. “This policy dates back to when asbestos was still used as a construction material.”
Mestre referred to a presentation he had given early in the meeting discussing a study completed by his firm documenting the noise levels at the airport as measured by six monitors placed at strategic points on airport property — 1,500 feet past the runway and 3,000 feet past the runway.
According to the study, the noise contour from 2010 operations actually shrunk slightly compared to that of 2009. That means that an invisible border within which noise levels are considered too loud to allow homes or other uses without special insulation receded slightly due to decreased noise.
That coincides with a 6 percent reduction in airport traffic between the two years, dropping from 111,688 recorded operations — meaning take offs or landings — in 2009 compared to 104,950 in 2010.
That’s a 29 percent decrease from 2001.
A second problem Mestre pointed out involved how problem noise levels were determined, which he felt should be on a sliding scale based not only on how loud a noise is, but how often a person is exposed to it.
“As a scientist, (the policy) is a bit simplistic to me,” Mestre said. “It’s not just what the limit is, it’s how many times it occurs. I’d like to see the number more flexible based on operations. More operations mean a lower level of noise, fewer mean a higher level.”
Changes in that policy are decades down the road, and until then SMO officials have their hands tied, said Stelios Makrides, operations manager at the airport.
“We can’t do anything about it,” Makrides said. “We follow the policies of the federal government. In California, we also follow state standards, which are more strict than the rest of the United States.”
Many of the other complaints raised by residents are also outside the purview of airport officials, including perceived flight path changes, after curfew landings and the actions of flight schools on airport property.
Laura Shrewsbury, who lives in Venice, complained that after 18 years of living at her home, the noise has increased to an unacceptable level.
“I cannot hold a conversation in my yard, and I’m angry,” Shrewsbury said. “In the last three months, it’s been plane after plane after plane after plane.”
Ian Gregor, a spokesperson for the FAA, said that there had been no change in flight patterns.
Landings after 10 p.m. also took heat, with Commissioner Ofer Grossman suggesting that all “miscreants” that ignore the voluntary curfew be met by police.
“Given that strange things happen in the wee hours, it might be something that would be good to do,” Grossman said.
Flight schools, which earned the brunt of neighbors’ noise complaints, were also brought up at the meeting. The City Council of Los Angeles last week passed a resolution calling for the closure of SMO’s six flight schools.
The commission voted to form an ad hoc committee to create a plan for a future workshop featuring a presentation from the flight schools, and possibly a counter, fact-based presentation from a community member.