Santa Monica Plans for SMO Put Pilots at Risk

Commission recommends shortening runway.

The city of Santa Monica has devised a new and legally dubious scheme aimed at shutting down the southern California airport that includes lopping off thousands of feet of runway to prevent jets from landing there.

At its latest meeting on February 23, the Santa Monica Airport Commission voted in favor of lease rate hikes and shortened lease terms for airport tenants, the implementation of a new “emissions ordinance” and the shortening of Santa Monica’s Runway 3-21.

The Commission’s recommendations were passed on to the Santa Monica City Council. If city officials have their way the nearly 5,000-foot runway could be shortened, by as much as 2,000 feet, starting as soon as July 1.

The idea of shortening the runway was suggested as part of what was named the “Santa Monica Airport Visioning Process” — an exhaustive study of the future of the airport property that went on from 2011 to 2013. Part of the reasoning behind shortening the runway is that it would prevent large airplanes from landing at the airport.

The shortening of the runway would certainly make flying into Santa Monica Airport less safe for those airplanes that would still be capable of doing so. The increased lease costs and suggested short-term lease terms would also push many businesses away from the airport. The National Business Aviation Association noted in a letter to David Goddard, the Chair of the Santa Monica Airport Commission, that short-term leases and suggested “environmental responsibility” requirements would violate federal obligations.

The Santa Monica City Council contends that the use of a parcel of land on the western portion of the Santa Monica Airport property, which is where the runway would be shortened, can be reclaimed by the city on July 1. The FAA, AOPA and NBAA, however, maintain that the airport property must continue to operate in its present state through federal obligations.

Several efforts have been made in the past to curb the city officials’ attempts to close the airport, including an effort to transfer the power over the decision-making for the airport property use from the city council to the voters of Santa Monica. A public vote in November to that effect was turned down. At the end of January, AOPA and NBAA submitted an amicus brief in support of the continued airport operation at the Santa Monica Airport property, defining why any other use would be illegal.

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