Runway safety concerns at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) topped the agenda at a meeting in Washington D.C. between Santa Monica officials, Congresswoman Jane Harmon, Congressman Henry Waxman, James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Federal Aviation Administration officials.
According to City documents, SMO “is classified by the federal government with an Airport Reference Code (ARC) of B-II which defines the Airport as suitable for use by slower, Category A and B aircraft.” However, in recent years there has been an increase of Category C and D aircrafts (jets) using the airport. This jet traffic increase has exacerbated “the safety risks created by the Airport’s location amidst residential neighborhoods, its situation on a plateau surrounded by hills, and its lack of Runway Safety Areas.” The City has attempted to obtain FAA approval to create Runway Safety Areas suitable for Category A and B aircraft, but the FAA has refused to approve them, suggesting instead that the City seek other solutions. Consequently, on November 27, 2007, the City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit use of the Airport by Category C and D aircraft in order to protect the safety of the Airport’s neighbors, its pilots, passengers, and the City.
Kate Vernez, assistant to Santa Monica’s City Manager, told the Mirror, “The actual solution is not in hand yet.”
City Manager P. Lamont Ewell ex­plained to the Mirror that the City is seeking a “meaningful runway solution” with the FAA. The issue will now go “back to the Council in closed session to consider what the next steps should be.” The matter will be taken up in closed session because the issue “could potentially lead to litigation.” He also mentioned that the City would be preparing a summary memo about the meeting. The memo was not available at press time.
The Mirror also had the opportunity to speak with Congresswoman Jane Harmon about the January 29 D.C. meeting. She hopes to help “resolve the issues in a mutually agreeable way,” and that litigation by the City of Santa Monica will be unnecessary. She also mentioned that litigation does not always lead to the intended goal.
Harmon also noted that if the appropriate EMAS (Engineered Material Arresting System) beds are placed at SMO, “the runway will be shorter” and therefore not able to accommodate “fully fueled Category D jets.” EMAS is a type of Runway Safety Area.
The Congresswoman also mentioned that she brought up the air and noise pollution impacts caused by Airport operations at the meeting. She supports having a “definitive study” on the impact of air pollution and is seeking funding for the study from the Federal Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She stated that the FAA “will not fund” such a study. If she is successful in getting the EPA funding she will ask Waxman to support the study.
Martin Rubin, Director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, reacted to Harmon’s participation: “We are very grateful that Congresswoman Jane Harman brought up SMO air and noise pollution community concerns. Jet emissions need to be part of the safety equation because it is unsafe to have jets run up their engines and take off, blasting toxic emissions into West LA and Santa Monica neighborhoods.”