By Olin Ericksen
May 2 -- The City of Santa Monica and the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) could be on a collision course
after the Airport Commission last week voted unanimously to
cordon off nearly 1,200 feet of runway to enhance safety at
Santa Monica Airport.
The resolution to restrict a larger part of the airstrip
-- which could limit jet traffic -- comes nearly one month
after some Airport Commissioners and City officials said they
were "blindsided" by the FAA's suggestion that the
City reduce by half the 900 feet of recommended safety area.
Instead of 300 feet on the west end and 600 feet on the eastern
end to prevent planes from overrunning the tarmac, commissioners
voted April 23 for 600 feet to be set aside on each end of
the 5,000-foot runway.
"I voted for it because it produces safety areas at
either end of the runway, and it will protect Los Angeles
and Santa Monica residents," Commission vice-chair Susan
Hartley said this week.
Hartley said she would not comment on what impact the recommendation
may have on reducing air traffic if it is implemented.
However, FAA officials, making a rare appearance before the
commission last month, said reserving larger safety zones
would limit flights, particularly by jets, and therefore would
not be allowed, because Santa Monica is seen as a critical
reliever airport for nearby LAX.
"There is a balance in terms of regional access,"
Brian Armstrong, an FAA district official, told the commission
in March. "Any action that may restrict that access through
the installation of (safety systems) and Restricted Safety
Areas is not acceptable."
While the City Council and City Manager Lamont Ewell have
yet to formally take up the issue, they could be facing a
showdown with the FAA if the resolution is followed, many
By setting aside 300 feet more on the west-facing end of
the runway than the proposal last March, last week’s
recommendation could impact even more traffic because 90 percent
of all take-offs are towards the Pacific Ocean, according
to Airport officials.
In March, FAA officials called on the City to reduce that
the footage from 300 feet on the west end -- which would be
comprised of arrested collapsible concrete -- to 165 feet.
In addition, 600 feet of proposed restricted strip on the
less frequently used east-facing runway would need to be reduced
by several hundred feet to give more take-off and landing
room for planes, FAA officials said.
Many pilots and aviation companies that use the airport said
any changes restricting the runway would impact their ability
to carry cargo, passengers and fuel.
Neighborhood groups ringing the airport counter that jet take-offs
have skyrocketed over the past two decades to more than 18,000
in 2004, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
Already the City and FAA are tangled in a dispute over a
2002 ordinance passed by the City that would eliminate larger
and faster aircraft from using the airport. The City Attorney’s
office and FAA officials are still negotiating that issue.
If the City Council and City manager back the changes, it
is unknown what impact the law may have. Federal officials
contend that while the City owns the land, federal authority
trumps local ordinances.
Hartley said a response is expected from the FAA by August