Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Council to Take on Airport Safety
By Olin Ericksen
The Santa Monica (CA) Lookout
The lingering issue of improved runway safety at Santa Monica Airport will lift off Tuesday night, but before getting off the ground, one neighborhood group has radioed they already have a problem. Council members Tuesday will likely launch what could be a year-long process to make the first safety changes in more than six decades to Santa Monica’s 5,000 foot long airstrip — where jet take-offs are approaching 20,000 a year. The move comes five years after City staff cautioned that Santa Monica Airport is in need of an overhaul to make sure that aircraft — especially larger and faster planes — do not go off the runway into nearby neighborhoods.
“While larger and faster aircraft have shown the ability to safely operate at the Airport, City Staff was concerned about the decreasing margin of safety from the increase in the number of aircraft using the Airport,” said a staff report released this weekend by Bob Trimborn, the City’s airport manager
Because buying expensive land near the airport to extend the runways is not an option, Airport officials said. After meeting over the years with the Federal Aviation Authority they recommended in December carving out hundreds of feet of safety areas on the existing runway at both ends as an effective way to stop run-away planes.
“The ultimate goal is to create the safest possible aircraft operating environment to protect the flying and non-flying public alike,” Trimborn wrote.
Friends of Sunset Park, a neighborhood group adjacent to the busy municipal airport, already is speaking out about the details of the plan and the lack of public input, going as far as sending out position papers to the local media rejecting the staff proposal.
“We are not happy with the specifics of the plan and we are not happy with the way it has been presented,” said Kathy Larson, an outspoken advocate for airport reform and FOSP Airport committee chair.
The proposal endorsed by the FAA calls for cordoning off 300 feet on the west end runway, 250 feet of which would be composed of collapsible concrete to slow and catch the aircraft, a new method being used to slow down landing aircraft.
On the East end runway — the less used of the two runways, according to Larson — a 600-foot Reserved Safety Area would be cordoned off, but the newly approved method would not be used.
FOSP opposes the proposal, arguing that it is a missed opportunity to address the issue of decreasing jet traffic and its effects on nearby residents, Larson said.
“We’re being told. that this layout will not affect jet traffic as it stands,” she said, adding that the group would like to see safety areas in place at both ends of the runway.
By doing so, the City would limit the thousands of jet take-offs and landings that now rattle residents windows and spew spent fuel, Larson said.
“The goal is to eliminate larger, faster, safety inappropriate aircraft at the airport,” she said of the FOSP suggestions. (Editor’s Note: What she really means is they want to close the airport).
The neighborhood group also is worried that the issue has not yet been brought before the public and that the proposal suggested by City staff after meeting with the FAA framed the discussion without tackling residents’ concerns.
City officials in the report note that the issue will come before the public over the next year, starting with a March 27 meeting of the Airport Commission.
The City will continue to meet with the FAA to discuss a 2002 FAA administrative complaint against the City charging that Santa Monica impeded its jurisdictional authority in implementing a 2002 law, known as the Airport Conformance Plan.
That law — aimed at addressing neighbors’ concerns and instituting some safety guidelines, such as a runway safety plan — has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle between the City and FAA, although there appears to be some headway being made, City officials said.
The council is expected to discuss “procedural issues” relating to that complaint Tuesday, said Deputy City Attorney Martin Tachiki.
The council also will take up two other issues related to the airport — dedicating a memorial to Douglas Aircraft and opening up access to the airport grounds for Santa Monica College at the Bundy Campus.