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Harrison Ford’s Plane Crash Brings International Attention to Santa Monica Airport Debate

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

March 9, 2015 -- Santa Monica Airport became a hot topic in news media throughout the world last week when famed actor and aviation enthusiast Harrison Ford crashed an airplane that had taken off from the local facility into a Venice golf course.

Ford, who was piloting a single-engine World War II-era plane, suffered unspecified injuries that were not life-threatening, his publicist told various media outlets.

The actor has been flying airplanes since the 1990s, several sources reported, and is an active supporter of Santa Monica Airport.

Last summer, Ford was part of a group that filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disputing the City’s claim that at least a portion of the airport could close in July 2015.

He contributed more than $25,000 to the campaign for Measure D, which, had it passed last November, would have severely limited the City Council’s control of the airport. The measure lost by a wide margin.

The Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA), an advocate of the facility, said in a press release that the incident was not a crash, but rather a “beautifully executed forced landing” that became necessary due to engine problems.

“From the first days of pilot training, pilots are taught to always be prepared for emergencies in the air and to have alternate landing spots in mind in case something unexpected should happen,” said SMAA Vice President Christian Fry, according to the press release.

He added, “The beauty of Santa Monica Airport is that we fly over Penmar Golf Course that runs parallel to our main runway. This provides an ideal alternate open landing space. Really just a great job by a well-trained pilot.”

Santa Monica Airport opponents, who frequently voice their views through email and social media, have mostly been quiet, perhaps not wanting to be seen as taking advantage of what could have been a tragedy.

One person who did comment on the incident was Santa Monica resident Ben Wang, who posted a message on several of the Facebook groups frequented by local activists. 

Wang wrote that many people in Santa Monica were talking about Ford's crash.

“As you might imagine, our immediate feelings have been mixed, given the long history of Harrison Ford's active participation in promoting the foreseeable dangers of Santa Monica Airport, which has negatively impacted the local community for decades,” he wrote.

Wang continued, “While we wish Harrison Ford [a] well and quick recovery from his injuries, we do hope this event helps to bring much-needed attention to the extreme dangers and many problems of the Santa Monica Airport.”

Mayor Kevin McKeown, an advocate for closing the airport, responded to an email from the Lookout asking for his opinion.

“We are grateful there was no loss of life,” he wrote. “Coincidentally, today I received a letter from an aviation consultant urging pilots to fly additional and unnecessary flights over Santa Monica neighborhoods, apparently as political pressure. This madness must stop."

The letter McKeown referenced has been posted on several social media and other websites by Santa Monica Airport opponents. It was written by a man named Jon Rodgers, who says he is an aviation consultant and is angry about proposed rate hikes for airport tenants and other possible limitations to aviation use at the site.

Rodgers encouraged people to “rebel against Santa Monica’s childish attitude” in the letter, which was addressed to “all pilots, FBOs and CFIs,” and cc’d to City Council members and the heads of aviation advocacy groups.

“Find a reason to use [Santa Monica Airport] especially for touch and go’s as often as possible and at all hours of the day and night, expressly to make as much noise as possible for as many people as possible,” Rodgers wrote.

The letter has angered many people, including John Fairweather, who headed the campaign against Measure D. He wrote about it on the website for the group Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic.

Fairweather wrote, “Not a lot one can say about this kind of thinking except wow!”

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