Shorter Runway at KSMO Increases Risk

More than 40 airplanes used the closed portions of the runway last year.

santa monica airport
At the end of 2017, Santa Monica's Runway 3-21 was shortened by 750 feet on each end, reducing the runway distance to 3,500 feet.The City of Santa Monica

It should come as no surprise that when a runway is shortened there is a price to pay in terms of safety. After shortening the runway from about 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, the city of Santa Monica published statistics that show that the closed sections are indeed needed.

The agenda for this week’s Santa Monica City Council meeting, set for this evening, included statistics on runway deviations during 2018. In more than 40 instances, airplanes used the closed portion of the runway either while landing short, departing from the closed section or for other forms of runway excursions. Most of the offending airplanes were not based at KSMO and the majority of the airplanes were piston singles. In two cases, the airplanes used the closed portions of the runway for emergency purposes.

The runway incursions were recorded by controllers at the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower on the field as well as surveillance cameras that have been installed at each end of the runway. The 42 recorded incidents were reported to the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) as presumable FAR violations.

While most of the airplanes on the list likely could have landed or taken off safely without using any of the closed 1,500 feet of runway, the two emergency airplanes that used those portions should be reason enough for the Santa Monica government officials to realize that shortening the runway presents an unnecessary hazard.

The city of Santa Monica intends to destroy the inactive portions of the runway and put hydroseed in place of the pavement, though the initial bids for the removal of the pavement exceeded the city’s $3.4 million budget for the project. This has delayed the initial plans for the project, which called for the removal of the excess pavement by the middle of this year. Santa Monica is exploring new bids from contractors for the work.

The FAA has authorized the closure of KSMO in 2028. The amount of jet traffic at KSMO, the chief complaint from the neighboring communities, has decreased by more than 80 percent since the runway was shortened.