Massive Landing Fees for Santa Monica Airport
About 95 people signed up to speak at the Santa Monica City Council meeting on Tuesday night regarding a landing fee of $5.48 per 1,000-pounds imposed on all airplanes touching down at Santa Monica Airport. After several hours of public input, the City Council deliberated for only a few minutes before voting unanimously for the fees, despite more than half of the speakers being against them.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Pam O’Connor hinted at the possibility of delaying the vote in light of the number of people that had signed up to speak, but the vote took place as scheduled.
A presentation from a city staff member said the fee increase is a way to boost revenue for the airport, which the city official contend currently runs at a deficit. Other sources, however, dispute the city's financials and claim some sources of airport revenue are going to the city coffers. Opponents of the fees also point to the fact that the city has rejected federal grants for the airport, which are designed to cover the maintenance costs required for the runway, taxiways and other potential costly airport developments.
Those against the new fees say they will likely reduce revenues from the airport since they will discourage operations. The number of ops has already dropped by more than half in the past 15 years. How the six flight schools based at Santa Monica will financially handle the new fees remains to be seen. Several speakers at the City Council meeting suggested that the fees will be the nail in the coffin for the schools. As an example of the impact of the fees, each landing with a Cessna 172 will cost approximately $14, resulting in a $70 increase in the cost for a lesson with five landings at the airport.
Maintenance shops at the airport are also afraid that the fee increase will reduce operations of airplanes based at Santa Monica and turn transient business elsewhere, resulting in a significant decrease in business. The first round of landing fees has already turned some customers off, said Kim Davidson, owner of Kim Davidson Aviation, a maintenance shop that has been in business at Santa Monica Airport for more than 30 years.
The new fees are scheduled to go into effect as of August 1, 2013. Current fees are only imposed on transient airplanes and are $2.07 per 1,000-pounds.
Many airport supporters believe that the fee hike is simply a strategic move to reduce the amount of operations at the airport. Several city officials have publically declared their desire to see as much of the airport as possible transformed for other use, and presentations by city staff at the meeting discussed future plans for the airport property.
A presentation from Dave Goddard, a representative from the Santa Monica Airport Commission, contained a discussion of when certain segments of the airport could be reclaimed by the city and how potential fines could be managed or avoided based on the illegal closure of Meigs Field in Chicago. Goddard said that, if the city successfully reclaims the western segment of the airport, which contains 2,000 feet of runway, in 2015, Santa Monica would become a “small Class B airport.” While known for being anti-airport, the Airport Commission did not recommend the landing fee hike, a fact that Goddard failed to mention at the City Council meeting.