The City Council in Santa Monica, Calif., has tentatively approved an ordinance that would ban certain jet aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO).
The unanimous vote was cast Nov. 27. Council members cited safety concerns as their primary reason for the ban.
According to Santa Monica Airport Manager Bob Trimborn, the ban, if adopted, would target Class C and D aircraft, those with approach speeds of 121 knots or greater.
“That’s aircraft like Gulfstream IVs and some of the Hawkers,” he said. “They represent about 7% of our traffic here, or 19,000 takeoffs and landings annually.”
There are 408 aircraft based at SMO. The majority are single-engine airplanes; fewer than 10 are jets.
In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the number of small jets using the airport, which is a designated reliever field for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), according to Martin Tachiki, Santa Monica’s deputy city manager.
The airport was established in 1917 as Clover Field. Its modern configuration was the result of two major government-funded projects, in 1941 and 1947. They brought it up to federal standards for a Class 4 airport, with a 4,500-5,500-foot runway and the capability to accommodate aircraft over 74,000 lbs. Under the 1961 airport classification system, it was classified as a trunk airport for Group III, capable of accommodating all twin-engine aircraft over 12,500 lbs. SMO sports one runway, 3/21, which measures 4,973 feet.
The airport is landlocked, built on 227 acres on a bluff 60 feet above surrounding neighborhoods. Acording to city officials, some houses are within 300 feet of the runway. They were built close to the airport during World War II to provide housing for employees of the Douglas Aircraft factory, which was located at the airport.
Safety has been a topic of discussion between city officials and the FAA for several years as traffic at SMO has increased.
Earlier this year, the city considered creating runway safety areas (“Landlocked: How can Santa Monica protect its airport — and the neighborhoods around it?” Oct. 5 issue). But there were concerns that creating a 1,000-foot buffer, as recommended by the FAA, could only be done by shortening the runway. That was viewed as unacceptable, according to city officials.
Another FAA suggestion was the creation of an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) bed at each end of the runway. When an aircraft comes to an EMAS bed, which is made of concrete foam, it sinks into the foam and stops, rather than going off the runway.
But city officials didn’t like that plan either. According to Tachiki, they “have some concerns on how fast the aircraft will be going when they come off the end of (the bed). They could be going as fast as 50 knots. You have to understand that some of the homes are just 300 feet away from the end of the runway.”
“There are a whole lot of nuances to this thing,” Trimborn added. “We don’t have runway safety areas at all. This ordinance is a way to maintain a safer airport.”
But the FAA disagrees and is, in fact, vehemently opposed to the ban.
In a Nov. 26 letter to the city, Kirk Shaffer, FAA associate administrator for airports, stated: “What you are considering by this proposed ordinance is flatly illegal as drafted. If the FAA determines that a restriction on the use of SMO is unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory, that restriction would be in violation of the city’s grant assurances, its surplus property deed restrictions … various U.S. Constitution provisions and quite possibly the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990.
“The city should expect the agency to expeditiously use its authority and all available means, if the ordinance is adopted as proposed, to ensure that all federal rights, investments, and obligations are protected and that no aircraft is denied access to SMO,” the letter continued.
The proposed ban was not a surprise to anyone, noted Tachiki.
“We have been in discussions with the FAA for about five years now,” he said. “They made their last proposal (the EMAS beds) and that was not good enough for us, so this is where we are.”
City officials are aware of the FAA’s opposition to the proposed ban and the implications of a pending lawsuit.
“This may go to a judge and the judge will decide if we can do this,” Tachiki said. “Ultimately we have to keep the airport safe.”
The second reading of the ordinance is expected in January. If there are no objections the ordinance will be adopted at that time. Trimborn noted that, at the first reading of the ordinance, some 15 people testified in favor of the ban.
He added that, at this time, it was unclear how the city would enforce the ordinance or if violators would be cited.
“We’re not that far along,” he said. “It will probably start with an educational campaign, sending post-cards and emails and working with the media. Then there might be a NOTAM about it.”