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Officials Ground Proposal for Interim Replacement as SMO Runway is Shortened  

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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 26, 2017 -- A proposal to create a temporary runway for use at Santa Monica Airport while the existing one is shortened is being flagged as potentially unsafe and could be grounded for good.

A report posted on the City website on Monday said the interim runway could be “contrary to safety standards.”

As proposed, the interim runway did not include "runway end identifier lights”, which are flashing strobe lights that enable a landing pilot to identify the beginning of the runway from the sea of city lights, the report said.

The temporary runway also lacked “precision approach path indicators,” which provide the landing pilot with lights adjacent to the runway indicating if the aircraft is on the correct glide slope for a safe landing.

“Operating the airport without these (runway) features is contrary to safety standards,” said Susan Cline, the City’s director of public works.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expressed concerns as well, Cline said.

“The FAA also indicated that an interim phase with one or more of these non-standard features may not be consistent with the Consent Decree,” Cline said.

A 227-acre airport handled about 85,000 operations (take offs and landings) in 2015. Most are propeller aircraft used by hobbyists, but the number of chartered jets is rapidly increasing.

Jets are also responsible for soaring complaints from the neighborhoods surrounding SMO and a big reason the City -- after decades of uphill battles -- signed a compromise pact (called a consent decree) in January with the FAA to close SMO by December 31, 2028 ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

The consent decree delays shuttering SMO for too long, in the view of some in the anti-SMO camp. But the agreement also cleared the way for, among other measures, making the runway too short for comfort for jets ("Reaction to Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal Mixed," January 30, 2017).

In late February, the City Council awarded a contract not to exceed $879,741 to AECOM/Aeroplex for feasibility, design and construction for a runway of 3,500 feet in length (a 1,500 foot reduction) and a possible interim version ("Council to Begin Implementation of Santa Monica Airport Closure Deal," February 27, 2017).

But an interim runway created other potential problems, Cline said.

“An interim project phase would also require aircraft to ‘back-taxi’ (taxi against the direction of arriving traffic and then turn 180 degrees to depart) at both ends of runway, which is considered to be a nonstandard operation," she said in the report.

"It also extends aircraft time on the runway and subsequently decreases safety,” Cline said, adding that the runway thresholds (runway ends) would have to be relocated as part of any interim shortening.

As a result, the approach and departure procedures would need to be updated by the FAA, she said, and potentially again when the final design changes are made.

Updated procedures are published to the aviation community on a 54-day cycle, Cline said.

“Given the construction schedule for an interim solution, the FAA would not have time to update and publish the new procedures,” she said.

The City’s goal is to complete all required work in time to meet the FAA December 7, 2017 deadline for publication of updated approach and departure procedures, she said.

If the deadline is missed, the City could be forced to wait for the February 1, 2018 publication. “Hence, time is of the essence,” she said.

Meanwhile, the effort to decide on the best design for the reduced runway is continuing.

A community meeting Tuesday attracted a crowd of more than 120 people, said Nelson Hernandez, the senior advisor on airport issues in the City Manager’s Office.

Two design options were discussed, he said. The options include providing pilots with either an additional 1,035 feet of buffer area and more reaction time, or 736 feet for taking off and landing, officials said.

The City’s Airport Commission will hear a similar presentation on May 2 and will take public input on the design options prior to making its recommendation to the City Council. The meeting will be at 1685 Main Street, in the City Hall’s council chambers. It starts at 7 p.m.

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