CITY HALL — Pilots and flight school owners will keep a eye on the Airport Commission Monday night as it discusses for the first time a major change in landing fees at the airport that could cost them and their customers.
The commission will discuss a proposal to increase landing fees from $2.07 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft to $5.48 per 1,000 pounds. Unlike the existing landing fee program, the larger charge will apply to local aircraft as well as those that fly in from other places.
The fee would be assessed each time a plane takes off from the airport, and documented by a camera system that shoots photos of the planes’ tail numbers.
The money would cover costs associated with the operation of the airport areas open for public use, which include the taxi lanes and places planes park that are not subject to leases, said Martin Pastucha, director of the Public Works Department.
The Airport Fund ran a deficit between fiscal year 2006-07 and 2010-11, according to city documents.
Joe Justice, owner of Justice Aviation, opposes the new fee because he believes it will be bad for businesses like his that are struggling in the bad economy as people cut back on expensive hobbies like flight.
“It can certainly add to money going out the door,” Justice said.
Justice’s fleet is mainly composed of Cessna 172 aircraft, each of which weigh roughly 2,000 pounds. That means for every take off and subsequent landing, his company will pay between $10 and $11 more than the goose egg they’re paying now.
“It means we have to pass that on to our customers, and most of us are barely hanging on,” Justice said.
Students could choose to go to a variety of other airports in the area, almost none of which have landing fees.
Of the 24 general aviation airports in or around Los Angeles County, both with and without control towers, only three other than Santa Monica Airport have landing fees, according to records held by the Federal Aviation Administration, although others have different fees like Chino Airport’s 6.5-cent tax on gas.
Camarillo Airport’s landing fee wouldn’t apply to aircraft like Justice’s — it only covers planes 12,500 pounds and over, and is still substantially lower at $1.30 per 1,000 pounds.
David Goddard, chair of the Airport Commission, doesn’t believe the fee is unreasonable, and might have the added impact of diverting flights elsewhere.
“It may inspire some of the pattern-flying planes to go elsewhere and fly patterns because they don’t want to pay every time they want to do a flight,” Goddard said.
Previous attempts to pay pilots to fly to other airports to do repetitive maneuvers that anger residents have been greeted with anger from those who disliked the idea of City Hall subsidizing the private businesses.
Everyone’s got a vision
The commission will take a look at the final round of results from a lengthy study of SMO’s future Monday night.
Phase III of the three-part study focused on initiatives and studies designed to reduce the impacts of aircraft operations on the surrounding community.
Officials plan to talk about concepts for non-aviation land, particularly kinds of uses that the community has called for like recreation, arts or an innovation site for sustainable transportation, Pastucha said.
Parking and access will also be up for discussion.
Officials will also address ways to make SMO a “better neighbor” by cutting down on emissions and noise that bother residents, some of whom live less than 300 feet from the end of the runway.
Goddard doesn’t hold out much hope that officials or the consultant will have looked at more substantial solutions to the ongoing problems at the airport rather than just mitigations.
Ideas he and others, including the Mar Vista Community Council, have put forward are dramatic changes that they believe can go into effect as soon as July 1, 2015, when one of the agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration is said to expire.
Those include shortening the runway by 2,000 feet, refusing to sell aviation gasoline at the airport and stop renting to “industrial tenants.”
“Our position is that our rights have not been reviewed,” Goddard said. “That’s all been put behind closed doors and taken out of the sunshine of public scrutiny, and there’s no reason for it.”
Vocal members of the public have often stated that they believe all phases of the process, which began in 2010, to be flawed.
Previous rounds looked at opinions about the airport and the economic impacts of the 287-acre campus. Both reports were considered “tone deaf” by airport opponents, who early on hoped to see an examination of the “nuclear option” — shutting the airport down for good, or at least severely curtailing its operations.
The City Council will look at both the landing fees and the visioning process on April 30.