City Acts to Ban Big Jets
by Brian Bland
Friends of Sunset Park Board member
Years of community effort to make the Santa Monica Airport safer for residents and pilots paid off when the City Council unanimously approved a ban on the largest, fastest, jets currently using the airport.
The move came Tuesday night on the first reading of an ordinance that will become law after a second reading in January.
The 7-0 vote to approve the ban came despite a last-minute threat from the Federal Aviation Administration to use “all available means” to fight the ordinance so that “no aircraft is denied access to SMO (Santa Monica Airport).”
The FAA’s Kirk Shaffer, Associate Administrator for Airports, used that phrase despite acknowledging that having homes at each end of the runway “increases the potential for injury from an aircraft accident off the end of the runway.”
That prompted Councilman Ken Genser to say the council no longer knows “which Mr. Shaffer, which FAA, we’re dealing with.” Other council members expressed their exasperation over the FAA’s continued promises to “keep the lines of communication open,” while communicating only demands and threats.
Shaffer’s letter reiterated his belief that the optimum solution would be for the city to buy and tear down the many homes that are in danger, a notion Mayor Richard Bloom called “offensive and absurd.”
Councilman Bob Holbrook said such a buy-and-demolish policy would lead to even bigger planes using the airport, which would create a need for more homes to be leveled, ad infinitum.
Shaffer has repeatedly emphasized SMO’s alleged role as a “reliever” for LAX, as if ignoring safety problems at SMO would solve LAX’s problems.
His letter mentioned nothing about a tragedy at a similar Arkansas airport this summer in which a smaller jet roared off the end of the runway and smashed into a house. Less than two months later, the FAA agreed that airport should be relocated, something the city, Conway, had asked for repeatedly.
Friends of Sunset Park board members thanked the Council and the staff for using tough language in the ordinance. They called on the FAA to stop its five-year-plus history of non-responsiveness and offers of half-measures that would do little or nothing to lessen the overrun danger.
Council members warned (and FOSP members acknowledged) that the city could face long and costly court battles from the FAA or jet wner/operators. It’s also possible a court would allow the larger jets to keep using SMO in the meantime.
But Council member Herb Katz said, given the FAA’s stubbornness, dropping the C and D aircraft (the bigger jets) is “the only way we can go.”
Pressure on the FAA is being brought to bear on another front. At a Dec. 5 meeting in Washington, D.C., City Manager Lamont Ewell, with city attorneys, will sit down with Reps. Henry Waxman and Jane Harman, along with the two top-ranking members of the House Transportation Committee and the FAA. Waxman and Harman both back the city’s stance regarding the danger from overruns. They are looking at the possibility of legislation or an agreement with the FAA that would recognize SMO’s unique situation and allow it to address the safety issue apart from the FAA’s general regulations.
Thanks so much, FOSP members! The City Council recognized your concern, hard work and perseverance as having been extremely important in its unanimous decision to confront the FAA on the issue of safety at SMO.