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Santa Monica Airport Starts Ten-Day Closure to Aircraft for Runway Shortening


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December 15, 2017 -- Around-the-clock work to reduce the length of the runway at Santa Monica’s municipal airport started Wednesday, closing SMO for ten days to all aircraft operations, the City said.

The announcement ushered in the second phase of a City project to shorten the nearly 5,000-foot runway to 3,500 feet in a bid to decrease use by large jets until SMO is ultimately shuttered to all aircraft at the end of 2028, as now planned.

Construction is scheduled to finish on Saturday, December 23, 2017. In the meantime, the work will be done 24-hours a day to “expedite the closure time and impacts on the airport,” said Suja Lowenthal, a senior advisor on airport issues for the City Manager.

“This is a historic day for the residents of Santa Monica and demonstrates the City’s commitment to protecting the health and wellbeing of residents and our neighbors,” Mayor Ted Winterer said in a statement.

“The shortened runway will reduce jet operations over the next ten years while also enhancing the safety areas on either end of the runway, something our residents have called for for many years,” he said.

His confidence and praise are not universally shared, though.

Even as SMO temporarily forbade all air traffic, anti-SMO activists pressed for proof that a shorter runway will fend off enough jets to make a worthwhile difference to the Santa Monica and West Los Angeles neighborhoods who’ve fought decades to close the airport.

“The City has announced that the reduced runway length will result in a 40 percent reduction of jet traffic at SMO,” said Marty Rubin of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP). “Did they take into account that those who want to fly into SMO will downsize to a jet capable of using the shorter runway?

“Did they take into account that larger jets with a reduced fuel load will be capable of using the shorter runway? Did they consider the demand growth for new business travel in small jets and turbo props looming on the horizon?” he said.

In reaction to the City’s announcement, the head of another anti-SMO organization asked City officials to explain why the wording of the statement did not specify the oft-used 40 percent reduction.

“Can you explain why and if the estimate has been changed?” Alan Levenson of No Jets Santa Monica asked in emails.

In its announcement, the City said that after SMO re-opens, “certain large jets will no longer be able to use SMO."

"A reduction in jet aircraft operations will minimize overall air pollution and noise exposure for the neighborhoods surrounding the airport," the statement said. "This construction project also provides more adequate safety areas at the ends of the runway."

In an analysis done for the City, Coffman Associates found a “potential” for a 44 percent reduction in jet operations with the shortened runway, based on assumptions traffic would increase annually between five percent and 10 percent through 2023.

At five percent growth, jet usage at SMO would jump from 16,331 operations in 2016 to 22,779 operations a year by 2023, had the City stuck with the existing runway.

Shortening the runway would reduce jet traffic to a range of 12,765 to 13,238 operations by by 2023, the study showed.

The largest impact of a reduced runway “would be to effectively to shut down business jet charter operators who fly others as part of their business,” the report said.

“Most of the business jets operated privately for personal and corporate use would be able to still operate at reduced runway lengths on a dry runway,” it said.

“Many, however, could elect not to continue to operate at Santa Monica Airport, due to limited loading or individual insurance requirements."

Thursday's announcement also said SMO’s Air Traffic Tower, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is remaining operational during the close and will assist in coordination of the emergency response to the Skirball fire.


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