The Santa Monica City Council ruffled feathers when it voted to introduce a city law that would ban large aircraft from Santa Monica Municipal Airport. AOPA and the FAA are opposing the move.
FAA Associate Administrator for Airports D. Kirk Shaffer, in a November 26 letter to Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, has gone as far as to suggest that the council’s claim that the issue is one of safety is in fact a smokescreen hiding a desire to restrict operations at the airport.
His tone was furious. “As you remember, I spoke before the council on August 28 of this year. At that time, I outlined the FAA’s determination that it would be possible to install an effective safety enhancement system at each end of the runway, without significantly affecting use of the airport.
Such an enhancement is still available, and there is no justification for further limitation on the use of the airport for safety reason. My testimony was in furtherance of my commitment to you and the management of your airport to keep the lines of communication open and to take personal ownership of addressing your concerns.
“Your proposed revision to Section 10.04/06/150, however, changes the conversation altogether. It shifts from what we heretofore accepted as your good faith concerns about safety to one about unreasonable denial of access to an important, federally obligated reliever airport in our national system.” The city proposal Shaffer referred to would have banned category C and D aircraft at Santa Monica.
“If the FAA determines that a restriction on the use of SMO is unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory, that restriction would be in violation of the city’s grant assurances, its surplus property deed restrictions, the Settlement of Agreement, various U.S. Constitution provisions, and quite possibly the Airport Noise and Capacity Act [ANCA] of 1990. Let me speak very frankly, ladies and gentlemen.
“What you are considering by this proposed ordinance is flatly illegal as drafted.”
The battle between Santa Monica and the FAA has lasted not just for years, although recent years have seen the more heated battles, but decades. The Santa Monica city staff, in a report to the city council, casts the FAA in the role of protector of those who ride in private jets while adopting the role for the city as the sole party interested in protecting innocent lives of those living off each end of the runway.
Airport Director Robert Trimborn said he wants to do everything he can to assure the airport is safe for those living and driving near the ends of the runway. He said EMAS (engineered materials arresting system) doesn’t meet the standards for the situation. Using it, cellular cement is placed at the end of the runway that crushes as an airplane travels through it, greatly slowing the aircraft. Trimborn said it would end at a 90-degree dropoff, if the system fails to adequately slow the aircraft as it is designed to do. He feels that is unacceptable. “It was not a good proposal back from the FAA. It comes down to safe operation of the airport.”
The city staff report claimed that existing FAA directives allow an airport owner to restrict the class of airplane operating at an airport if safety of airport operations is compromised.
The day after FAA’s Shaffer sent his letter, and prompted by an imminent city council meeting where the limitation on category C and D aircraft was proposed (about 7 percent of Santa Monica’s operations), an attorney for the National Business Aviation Association also fired off a letter to the city council. NBAA council Frank Costello wrote that the city is basing its action partly on the Airport Reference Code, which the city claims pertains to safety.
“The Airport Reference Code...is not a safety standard. It is an FAA coding system relating to airport design.” Costello cited the FAA’s Oct. 8, 2002, Notice of Investigation which states in part: “...the FAA does not consider it inherently unsafe for an aircraft of a larger design category to utilize an airport that has been designed to accommodate a lesser design category of aircraft. (Santa Monica was designed to category B standards.)
“We are concerned that the city is misrepresenting to the public what the Airport Reference Code actually is. NBAA deeply regrets that the debate over the future of SMO has descended to the level where demonstrably incorrect statements about safety may reach the level of public concern. The airport, and the community it serves, deserve better,” Costello wrote.
A letter was also sent to the mayor on November 27 by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s Jens Hennig, vice president for operations. “As the City of Santa Monica knows, federal law requires that access restrictions subject to the airport noise and capacity act (ANCA) cannot be implemented without first conducting required analysis pursuant to 14 CFR Part 161, which prescribes the process and requirements by which the FAA reviews and approves certain noise and access restrictions.
“The intent of your proposed ordinance is to once again attempt to discriminate against certain aircraft—specifically category C and D—from operating at SMO. This action violates federal law and the existing FAA processes to which the City of Santa Monica is subject,” Hennig wrote.
“Finally, GAMA would again remind the City of Santa Monica that it entered into an agreement with the FAA in 1984 to settle a number of disputes related to the city’s attempt to ban turbine powered aircraft from SMO. As the city council is aware, the 1984 agreement includes the City of Santa Monica’s obligation to ‘operate and maintain the airport as a viable functioning facility without derogation of its role as a general aviation reliever airport until July 1, 2015.’”
Trimborn, asked about concerns as to what happens after 2015, said there is no indication in official documents that the city would want to close the airport in 2015. He said new pavement was going in during his interview with AOPA Pilot and every effort is made to maintain and improve the airport.
“AOPA is very pleased that the FAA has taken a firm position on the Santa Monica issue,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. AOPA had urged the city council to abandon the proposal and work with airport tenants and neighbors to address both parties’ concerns. “This ordinance, which could serve as a first step toward airport closure, is completely unjustified and violates federal regulations.”
The FAA offered once again to provide federal funding to help the city buy property around the airport to develop a runway protection zone.
Shaffer said the FAA would prefer to install an EMAS at each end of the runway at Santa Monica, if the city does not opt to develop runway protection zones.
“This would be a substantial safety enhancement for [Santa Monica], which can be obtained with the minimum loss of runway necessary for an EMAS bed that meets FAA design standards,” Shaffer wrote.
“The bottom line is that the city cannot enforce these kinds of restrictions at a federally funded public airport,” said Pecoraro.
“Airport neighbors would be better served by a willingness on the part of the city to sit down and talk with the FAA and the aviation community about realistic solutions that could meet the needs of residents and pilots.”
A release of 13 acres of Delano Municipal Airport land by the City of Delano opposed by AOPA has been reduced by the FAA to the interim use of five acres for non-aeronautical use.
“The subject property may be needed in the future for aeronautical purposes,” wrote Brian Armstrong, manager of the Los Angeles Airports District Office.
“The FAA does not object to the proposed use of the five-acre parcel by the Bechtold Equipment Company on an interim basis. Interim use is defined as a temporary short term (normally not to exceed three years) non-aviation use of property. We understand the city is considering a lease of longer than three years. We strongly recommend that the lease have an initial term of no more than five to 10 years. The lease may contain options for additional terms. Anything over 20 years is considered by the FAA as long-term lease and an encumbrance on the property that would require a release from the federal obligations and a federal environmental review,” Armstrong wrote.
He warned that the interim approval does not release the property from requirements in federal airport grant obligations that the land be used for aeronautical purposes: “The land remains airport property with a revenue-producing purpose derived from a non-aeronautical use.”
The Riverside County Economic Development Agency is asking the county board of supervisors to contract for its French Valley Airport to Coffman & Associates. “Our existing master plan was published in 1995 and is now obsolete; we need a new blueprint for French Valley Airport that will increase operating efficiency, enhance the level of services for the aviation community, and improve flight and ground safety,” said Robin Zimpfer, assistant county executive officer for the Economic Development Agency.
Proposed projects include the design and construction of a new apron, preventive maintenance in the form of new asphalt for runway repaving and replacing the Airport Weather Observation System (AWOS). The new plan also calls for the elimination of a 1990 proposal to install a parallel runway but also seeks to study feasibility of an air traffic control tower.
The French Valley Airport Master Plan update will be financed with an FAA, Airport Improvement Program planning grant, state matching funds, and the county’s aviation funds.