SMO —Usage of the Santa Monica Airport continued to decline in 2013 but the number of jet flights increased.
Total operations at the airport dropped below a hundred thousand for the first time since at least 1990, the last year for which the Federal Aviation Administration’s website has data available.
In 1990, there were 227,801 takeoffs and landings at SMO but last year there were only 95,607. Since 2006, flight totals at the airport have declined every year but one.
There were 14,284 jet operations at the airport in 2013 compared to 12,414 in 2012. Jets made up 15 percent of the airport’s total operations in 2013, according a recent report from the Santa Monica Airport Commission.
Local residents have long complained about the noise and pollution caused by the aircraft. They also fear for their safety, with some homes located about 300 feet from where jets and propeller planes take off and land.
Jet operations, in particular, have bothered some residents.
When airport advocates argue that residents knew the nearly century-old airport was there when they moved in, residents have rebutted that jets have became more prevalent in recent decades.
Jet flights held steady at around 18,000 annually in the early 2000s but declined substantially around the same time the recession struck in 2008. Jet totals floundered around 12,000 and 13,000 annually until last year when they spiked again.
Propeller plane operations, which made up 82 percent of all flights in 2013, declined by 10 percent last year. Prop plane usage has dropped every year but one at SMO in the past decade.
Helicopter flights dropped from 3,247 in 2012 to 2,561 in 2013. Helicopter trends are more erratic over the last decade. Flights rise or fall from one year to the next but always stays between 2,300 and 3,800 annually.
While the usage of jets and propeller planes tend to follow regional or national trends, an aviation noise expert explained at the last Airport Commission meeting, helicopter flights differ more widely from airport to airport and year to year.
In the past, airport advocates have said that the usage of Santa Monica Airport is declining, in part, because of new landing fees enacted by City Council in recent years.
“The landing fees, especially for based aircraft, are discouraging flights at the airport for the smaller propeller driven aircraft,” said Bill Worden, president of The Santa Monica Airport Association. “The corporate aircraft pay the fees as a cost of doing business and pass them along. The little guy cannot do that.”
Worden added that he believes the landing fees are illegal.
The airport budget had operated at a loss to taxpayers until last fiscal year, city officials said, when landing fees helped bring the Airport Fund into the black.
“There has been a slow decline in general aviation for a score of years or more due to the rising cost of maintenance and operations,” Worden, an airport advocate, said.
Longtime airport opponent Martin Rubin noted that in the mid-1980s, jet flights increased exponentially while piston plane flights dropped by 50 percent, the result, he said of a 1984 agreement “that opened the flood gates to the private jets.”
The recession has had impacts on the number of operations, too — a rare fact that both Rubin and Worden agree on.
For Rubin, who runs Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, the decline in total flights is negligible.
“I do not notice a drop in the present number of planes taking off and landing,” he said. “What I do notice is the ongoing stench of jet fumes permeating the neighborhood with no relief.”