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Santa Monica Airport Operations Slowly Rise, Report Finds
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 30, 2016 -- Despite the decades-old fight to close Santa Monica Airport (SMO) to aviation, take offs and landings there are continuing a five-year pattern of overall increases, a new report has found.

SMO handled 8,280 aircraft operations last month, a five percent dip from the same month last year but still part of a steady rise in aeronautic traffic since 2012, the operations report to the City’s Airport Commission said.

Propeller aircraft and helicopter use at the airport dropped slightly. But jet traffic -- the source of most complaints from neighbors -- rose almost 38 percent, from 1,094 in October 2012 to 1,506 last month, the report showed.

Jet operations last month averaged 50 per day, it said.

In the last five years, overall operations (defined as one take off or landing) peaked in October 2015. In the same month of 2012, there were 8,241 operations, before activity dived in 2013 to 6,489 operations and then started a slow arc, rising to 7,203 the next October and then 8,725 arrivals or departures in October 2105, the report said.

About 78 percent of the traffic was from propeller aircraft, which saw operations drop 7 percent last month compared to the same month in 2015. Helicopters using SMO, about three percent of all activity, dipped slightly last month but has been about the same since 2012.

The Airport Commission receives monthly updates on SMO operations. The airport handled about 85,000 operations in 2015, the City said.

Under siege for decades by neighbors surrounding the century-old airport, SMO was targeted anew last August when the City Council voted to close it by June 30 of 2018, if legally possible ("Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport by 2018," July 28, 2016).

The council also added to noise and other restrictions on the 227-acre facility and ordered that aviation support services (such as fuel sales) now provided by private operators be taken over by the City.

Nonetheless, the airport’s closure is on hold again as the City vies for control of SMO with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees the operations of the nation’s airports and has consistently acted to keep SMO open to air traffic.

The FAA is now investigating the council vote to shutter SMO and the council’s subsequent attempt to evict Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, the companies providing aircraft fuel and other services at the airport ("FAA Opens Probe of City Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport," September 28, 2016 and "City in Holding Pattern as Two Santa Monica Airport Tenants Defy Eviction," October 18, 2016).

SMO’s most vocal detractors live in the surrounding neighborhoods in Santa Monica and Los Angeles and say noise levels are rattling, jets generating dangerous levels of pollution and their homes are too near air traffic to be safe.

The aviation community says the airport is an important relief value for busy Los Angeles International Airport.

SMO is the county’s oldest airport but it has spent much of its life under attack.

As early as 1922, the land occupied by SMO was used as a landing field. Four years later, city voters approved a bond measure to purchase the land and use it as a park. The site was leased to the U.S. government in the World War II era.

With the advent of jet aircraft, relations between the City and the federal government soured. The City threatened to close the airport in 1984 but, in a compromise, agreed to continue operations until June 30 of last year in return for more authority over issues such as noise.

Since the expiration of the agreement, the City, the FAA and pilots have been waging more battles over control. If it can, the City says it eventually wants to transform the airport land into a "Great Park" for the Westside akin the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or Central Park in New York City ("Santa Monica Airport Park Expansion Moving Forward," September 27, 2016).

Nonetheless, jet traffic has continued escalating over the years at SMO with the popularity of “fractional aircraft,” a term for multiple owners sharing the cost and use of commercial aircraft.

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