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Short runway signals Santa Monica's long good-bye to local aviation

Simon Ray finishes a flying lesson with Daniel Valdez. They flew into Santa Monica Airport from San Diego.
Ken Scarboro/KPCC
A pilot and flight student flew into Santa Monica Airport from San Diego.

Santa Monica City Council’s vote this week to shorten the runway at its municipal airport means nearly half the jets that now use the airstrip will no longer be able to do so. It’s a significant step in the city’s plan to wind down operations and close the airport after 2028.

The 5,000-foot runway will be cut to just 3,500 feet, said Nelson Hernandez, senior advisor to the Santa Monica city manager. The council chose an option that requires constructing new taxiways to access the runway. The cost of that construction isn’t yet known, however the city will receive construction bids this summer with work likely in the fall.

A shorter runway means less pollution from the larger corporate jets that rev their engines before takeoff, Hernandez said. Fewer planes will translate to less noise for the thousands of residents who live close to the airport.

The move is part of the city’s strategy to wind down aviation operations. A settlement with the FAA this year lets Santa Monica close its airport after 2028.

Residents voted in 2014 to dictate how the land use will change, Hernandez said: “Only five uses are permitted. That’s park, open space, recreation, education and culture.”

The city has been making other changes. It has ordered a shift to cleaner-burning jet fuel and  has gradually taken over the business operations from outside companies that had contracts to sublease airport hangars and office space.

The National Business Aviation Association opposes the runway shortening. NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steven J. Brown’s letter to Santa Monica’s mayor said the city had not sufficiently studied the noise implications of shortening the runway. The NBAA has challenged the FAA settlement in a filing in appeals court in Washington DC. It said the FAA overstepped its authority in granting the settlement.

The city's success negotiating a settlement allowing the airport to close  sets a worrisome precedent for business aviation, said Jol Silversmith, attorney for NBAA.

"We think it sends a bad signal," Silversmith said. "It certainly encourages other communities that are at odds with their airports to find ways to restrict them."