By Joe Fasbinder
“If you’re lucky,” said John Page, “you’ll never have to use that part of the runway, anyway.” He keeps his Evenflo Symphony, two-passenger, single-engine personal aircraft parked at Santa Monica Airport. For now, anyway.
The nearly 100-year-old airstrip, in one of the most desirable parts of Santa Monica, is going to be moving to permanently remove “excess pavement” at the end of each of the now 3,500-foot runway. The City is paying for it, because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) won’t.
“It’s all overgrown with weeds, anyway,” he said. You only hit it if you’ve seriously underestimated your piloting skills. Like, if you’re about to crash.
The ground uncovered by the work will be seeded in grass, pilot and plane owner Page said. Maybe. “We are working with the FAA to assess” whether the green areas might attract wildlife that could pose a safety threat to aircraft, said Alex Gertsen, director of airports and ground infrastructure for the National Business Aviation Association.
The changes are going to take some time, and cause disruptions at the single-runway airport. The project began on June 16 and will continue through September 6. The airport will be closed entirely on two separate four-day periods: July 8 to 11 and August 5 through 8.
Small planes, which include private jets, will have to land at other, nearby airports and pilots and passengers will have to get on the freeway, in a ground-based vehicle, if they want to get to Santa Monica.
A reader at Aviation News was the only one to post a comment on the situation. He didn’t sound happy. A reader calling him or herself Proclaim Liberty said:
“Apparently the Santa Monica Council does not want any of the services provided by aviation, including its economic activity. I wonder if there is any way to demonstrate to them their shortsightedness? One cannot simply conjure up some emergency for which the lack of air access increases their loss of lives and property, but one would think they should recognize their loss of tax revenue if the airport and its ancillary businesses ceased to exist. No community should have an airport facility forced upon them, but, if they insist that air traffic must not touch them, let them be denied all its benefits also. Let them wait longer for ground deliveries. Let them not enjoy traffic reports from aerial observers. Let their FedEx deliveries be delayed. Give them and their constituents exactly what they are demanding, which is a Luddite’s paradise. If that’s really what they want, isolate them — as punitively as possible.”
He might have a valid argument. Despite the partial closures, and the problems it will cause for small plane pilots, planes are going to have to park somewhere else for a while. Nearby small-plane equipped airports are located in Hawthorne, Compton and Van Nuys.
“Blame it on the jets,” said Page. “Neighbors just didn’t like the sound of jets going over their homes. They’re loud,” even though airport rules call for them to turn out over the ocean pretty soon after takeoff and upon landing.
That’s one of the reasons the city is trying to get rid of the airport, entirely.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is challenging a January 2017 settlement agreement between the city and the FAA that paved the way for the shortening of the runway and, ultimately, the possible closure of the airport in 2028. A U.S. Court of Appeals initially held that it didn’t have jurisdiction of the case, and NBAA subsequently followed with a case before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That case was briefed on jurisdictional issues last fall, and NBAA is awaiting a decision on whether the case will move forward.
“At this time there is still litigation pending questioning the validity of the settlement agreement,” said Jol Silversmith, a member of the law firm KMA Zuckert who is representing NBAA in the case. “Speaking practically, one would think the city would be well advised not to proceed with spending any money on pavement removal if there is a risk that the settlement agreement could be thrown out. The city’s obligations, that it believes to be free of, would snap back into existence and effectively, [the city] would be in gross violation of its federal obligations by no longer having a 5,000-foot runway.”
So, the FAA has agreed to remove some of the pavement, despite complaints in court from the Santa Monica Airport Association.
Santa Monica Airport has been under city ownership since 1926, when the City bought the property using park bond funds. In 2014, voters passed Measure LC, which mandates that if the airport closes – that’s a big if – the land could only be used for parks, open space, recreation, education or culture, except in the event of another vote by Santa Monica citizens. Who are sick of jet noise.
“If you ask me, I’ll be parking my plane somewhere else in 2028,” said Page.