Stop Flying Over My Head

By Martin Rubin

Santa Monica Airport flights should go back over Santa Monica, where they belong.

Historical facts show that for more than two decades changes to flight operations at Santa Monica Airport (SMO)  moved the airport’s impacts away from Santa Monica to over Venice. That’s a fact.

It was 1990 when SMO’s “departure-to-the-west” rules were changed. Instead of aircraft turning over Santa Monica after leaving the runway, they went straight out over Rose Avenue all the way to the ocean before turning, bypassing Santa Monica altogether. Remember when it was possible to sit out in the front patio of the Rose Cafe without the noise of jets blasting overhead?

Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) didn’t just dump noise on Venice. As it turned out, in order to maintain a safe separation distance, the new departure rule over Venice meant that planes needed permission from the LAX control tower before they could take off. This resulted in long idle times on the east end of the runway with corporate and private jets sitting in cue for over an hour at times, spewing toxic pollution across Bundy Drive into the once quiet West Los Angeles bedroom community of North Westdale.

Even before Venice noticed the new noise impacts of jet traffic, residents in North Westdale complained to officials right away because jet fumes have a strong kerosene odor and are sickening. But their complaints fell on deaf ears as corporate and private jet traffic was allowed to grow at an astronomical rate. Can you imagine a 1,800% increase in jet traffic from 1983 until 2007? Throughout the entire year 1983 there were 578 jet takeoffs. That’s about 1 or two a day on average.

It was 1984 when the FAA and Santa Monica signed the Santa Monica Airport Agreement that remains in effect until July 1, 2015. The intent of the agreement was to lessen the impact of aircraft operations for all homes and neighborhoods around the airport. Really? The results show the intent was a complete failure.

Between 1986 and 1989 airport improvement projects were undertaken and the runway went through an expensive overlay so that corporate and private jet traffic would have a smooth landing surface.

In 1990, when jet operations grew to about double the 1983 level, Santa Monica residents near the flight path probably started to complain, or maybe Santa Monica city officials were forewarned about the inevitable influx of corporate and private jets about to arrive. Because in 1990 Santa Monica requested that the takeoff pattern be changed from making noise over Santa Monica to instead making noise over Venice. So it was that jet traffic as well as other instrument rated aircraft began to fly out over Venice, and continue to do so despite the resultant huge environmental increase in toxic air pollution. Jet traffic increased from an average of 1 to 2 takeoffs a day to more than 25 takeoffs a day, sometimes more than 40 jet takeoffs in one day, dumping the noise over Venice and the devastating toxic air pollution into North Westdale.

There’s more. Santa Monica Airport has certain “recommendations” and “ordinances” which coincide with the airport’s “Fly Neighborly” program. For example, “Visual Flight Departure Rules” for fixed-wing aircraft and for helicopters departing to the west are requested to overfly the Penmar Golf Course and initiate northerly turns at the shoreline and southerly turns at or after Lincoln Boulevard. This includes all the pattern flights of the seven flight schools that account for approximately half of all the flights out of SMO. So, not only do instrument (IFR) flight departures to the west go straight out over Venice to the ocean due to the new 1990 rule, but SMO also requests that all the other visual flights (VFR) avoid flying over Santa Monica.

Santa Monica’s fly neighborly program is anything but neighborly. It appears that Santa Monica wants no impacts from their own airport. However, Santa Monica city officials are extremely proud that Santa Monica is now being referred to as Silicon Beach. Understand that it is a Silicon Beach built on toxic air polluting corporate and private jets buzzing into and out of their private comfortable jet port.

Recently, Santa Monica residents in the Ocean Park community just north of Venice cried out that they don’t want the FAA to return any part of the old takeoff route over Santa Monica. Understandable, but  is that really fair? SMO impacts should be distributed in a way that would minimize the overall impacts and free up aircraft to take off without undue delays. Santa Monica should understand that if they decide to keep SMO operating after July 1, 2015, Santa Monica will bear their fair share of impacts from all flights. Venice residents don’t want them just as much as anyone.

Join Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution to help fight this environmental, health and safety injustice. Website: www.jetairpollution.com.