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Waxman Introduces Amendment to Bring FAA, Santa Monica to the Table  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

April 4, 2011 -- Airport safety talks between Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may get some life breathed into them, if an amendment authored by U.S. Representative Henry Waxman makes it into law.

Last week, Waxman introduced wording urging the FAA to conduct “good faith” negotiations to address safety issues at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) into the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2011.

The bill, H.R. 658, passed the House of Representatives Friday by a vote of 223-196. The Senate has its own version of the bill, and the two bills now have to be reconciled before FAA reauthorization can become law.

“The amendment I offer today is simple and straightforward,” Waxman said Thursday in his address to the House. “It urges the FAA to continue its discussion with the City of Santa Monica to identify a meaningful solution to address serious safety concerns at the Santa Monica Airport.”

Waxman described the heart of the problem – the risk that airplanes might overshoot or fail to take off from runways on the plateau on which the airport is built.

“Each end of the bi-directional runway is abutted by steep hills, public streets, and densely populated neighborhoods, with homes as close as 250 feet,” said Waxman. “If a plane overshot the runway or failed to lift off upon departure, it could easily land in the neighborhood.

The FAA's proposed solution to the problem “has simply fallen short,” Waxman said.

Apparently the City Council thought so too, when, in March 2008, it passed an ordinance banning Class C and D jets from the city's airport except in emergency situations.

The FAA lost no time bringing an injunction stopping the ordinance from taking affect, and for nearly three years it wrangled with the city in the courts.

This January, the United States Court of Appeals sided with the FAA, saying the jet ban violated the terms of a 1984 contract between the FAA and the city.

The contract – which will expire in 2015 – was the result of an unsuccessful attempt by the city to close the airport altogether in 1981.

That contract, the Court of Appeals wrote, mandates that the city “make SMO available for use on 'fair and reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination, to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical uses,'” and, the court ruled, jets are not dangerous enough to exclude from that agreement.

For years, airport neighbors have complained about safety risks, noise and pollution they say the airport causes.

Last month, Los Angeles City Council members Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn asked the L.A. City Council to pass a resolution to support closing flight schools at SMO and advocating a flight path that would take some aircraft over Sunset Park and Ocean Park, instead of neighborhoods in Mar Vista, Venice and West Los Angeles.

Waxman's amendment has a way to go before it become law. The House and Senate have to see eye to eye before the bill passes Congress and makes its way to the President's desk. And the White House has threatened to veto the bill if it contains a provision in H.R. 658 that impedes the ability of labor to organize in the aviation industry.

House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri pointed out Friday that the last FAA reauthorization, passed in 2003, expired in 2007. Since then, there have been 18 short term extensions of that law.


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