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Airport Commission Defies FAA Warning

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

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. (see story)

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 agree.

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 3.


“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." Susan Hartley




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