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Santa Monica Airport Tower Decision Could Take a Year, FAA Officials Say

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

March 25, 2013 -- Federal officials will not decide whether to close the control tower at Santa Moncia Airport (SMO) for at least a year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday.

The tower at Santa Monica's 63-year-old airport was not on the list of 149 towers operated by contractors slated for closure after April 7 in an effort to cut $637 million required by budget sequestration.

SMO's tower is operated by 14 FAA employees and not by contractors. By contrast, the towers at Riverside Municipal (RAL), Sacramento Executive (SAC), Brown Field Municipal (SDM) in San Diego and 146 others, will be shut down because they are staffed by contractors.

Friday's “decision pertained only to Federal Contract Towers (FCTs), not FAA towers,” a spokesperson for the FAA said. “Santa Monica is an FAA tower. We haven't made any decisions about FAA towers yet.”

The FAA is currently negotiating with the employees' union, according to Federal officials. Those discussions could take up to a year.

Opponents of Santa Monica Airport are undeterred by the timeline.

“The FAA has two rounds of closures. This is only the first round and Santa Monica is still a candidate in the second round,” said John Stein, head of Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA).

FAA officials confirmed Friday that SMO's tower is still being considered for closure.

SPAA and Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) mobilized in February when the FAA announced that SMO's tower could be among nearly 200 towers the Federal agency might close.

The two groups sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Congress members Henry Waxman and Karen Bass, advocating for the closure of the tower.

“SPAA and CASMAT wrote a letter that the FAA now has, showing that it should spend its money to keep open airports supported by the local town,” said Stein. He and other opponents claim that the airport does not enjoy local support.

SMO “is a relic of a bygone era that requires a million dollar City subsidy a year to break even. We don't think the FAA should waste money on something that we don't want and that loses money in the market place,” Stein said.

Opponents hope that closing the tower at SMO would reduce the number of flights in and out of the airport. Last year, SMO handled an average of nearly 400 flights a day.

The City's contract with the FAA is up for renegotiation in 2015 and opponents hope to decrease operations at SMO in the hopes that it will eventually lead to the airport's closure.

Sequester took effect on March 1 when legislators failed to reach an agreement on the Federal budget, resulting in dramatic cuts across the board.

The Department of Transportation alone is required to make $1 billion worth of cuts.

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