An Update on the Future of SMO

As I have reported before, the City of Santa Monica is going through a three-step airport community process, also called the visioning process, to help determine what the future holds for the Santa Monica Airport (SMO). Phase II of the process, in which community members were given an opportunity to put in their vision for the airport property, has concluded and a report has been submitted to the City Council by Moore Icanofano Goltsman, Inc. (MIG), which conducted the study.

Phase II of the visioning process consisted of 32 scheduled community meetings in different locations around Santa Monica during the months of January though March. Airport supporters and opponents sat down to air out their views. I participated in one of these meetings in a hotspot for the opponents and, as expected, I was seriously outnumbered as a supporter of the airport. In fact, in the meeting I attended, I was one of only two supporters. Most of the other seven participants would prefer to see the airport torn apart, or at the minimum eliminate jet and flight school traffic at the airport, which would leave minimal airplane activity.

Other airport supporters I’ve spoken with had different experiences at their visioning meetings. Some consisted of mostly supporters, others were about 50/50 supporters and opponents, and some had a similarly uncomfortable ratio as my meeting did. At the conclusion of Phase II, a total of 312 community members had put in their two cents about their vision for the airport property. MIG has now compiled the data collected from the meetings and submitted a report summarizing “community input, emergent themes, preferences and suggestions for the Airport’s future."

While the opinions of the participants in my visioning meeting about what should be done with the airport were about as far apart as the planet Earth and Pluto (which, as an aside, is no longer even considered a planet), the conversation was civil and everyone took their time to listen and consider the opposing participants views. And judging by the report, my meeting was representative of the range of opinions of the 312 community members. The report indicated that the opinions ranged from participants who would like to see a full closure of the airport, those who would limitat the operations and those who, like me, see the value of the continued existence of the airport, even in a less restricted form (for example, I would love to see the landing fees removed).

Now that Phase II of the visioning process is concluded, Phase III will analyze the findings from Phase I and Phase II. It is then up to the City Council to determine what the future will hold for SMO, and it is expected to make its recommendations early next year.

Sadly, it is likely that the City will side with the airport opponents as the City has expressed its interest in closing the airport for decades and the only reason that it is still in existence is because Santa Monica is legally obligated to continue its operation. However, there is a large discrepancy as to when and if those legal obligations expire. The City believes it can close the airport in 2015 while it is the FAA’s belief that the post-war transfer makes the city obligated to operate the airport in perpetuity. It will be interesting to see what the City Council recommends after analyzing the results of the visioning process. I hope they will come to their senses and leave the airport alone. To be continued…

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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