Santa Monica Rushes to Shorten SMO Runway

City Council approves $3.5 million contract to help quickly eliminate jet traffic from the 100-year-old airport.

SMO runway
The city of Santa Monica will spend $3.5 million of taxpayer money to move forward with the controversial shortening of the runway at SMO.City of Santa Monica

With the agreement the City of Santa Monica made with the FAA earlier this year to shorten the runway at SMO and ultimately close the airport in 2028, the city is working quickly to shut out business jets from the embattled airport as soon as possible.

This week, the city council approved a contract with Aecom for the shortening of the runway from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet for a “guaranteed maximum price” of $3.5 million out of the pockets of the city’s taxpayers. Aecom has been contracted to design and oversee the runway project. The new runway distance would render it too short for most jet traffic that now flies in and out of the 100-year-old airport.

What the city refers to as construction, but what is actually destruction, is set to begin in October. Initially the work will be done at night, but there will be 7 to 10 days during which the airport will be closed. The plan is for the work to be complete by the end of the year. According to NBAA attorney Jol Silversmith, the city’s goal is to complete the work before the deadline for chart amendments to be published in February.

Staff members from Santa Monica’s Planning and Public Works boards have started working on a plan for the future use of the parcels of airport property that the city has reclaimed.

While the city's plans are in line with the agreement reached with the FAA, there are several lawsuits and amicus briefs in the process that could put a stop to the shortening of the runway as well as the planned closure of the airport in 2028. NBAA has a lawsuit pending against the FAA, claiming it was beyond the agency's authority to sign the agreement to close the airport. Airport tenants have a similar lawsuit in the process against the city.

Initial plans for the runway shortening are mostly for restriping, Silversmith said – modifications that would not be very difficult to reverse. Should the pending lawsuits be successful, the city will be obligated to return the runway to its previous length, at additional costs to its taxpayers.