Hoping to convince the Santa Monica City Council to refrain from banning certain airplanes from its municipal airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has submitted an alternative runway safety proposal for the council’s consideration.
In a letter to Santa Monica city manager Lamont Ewell dated March 7th, FAA associate administrator for airports Kirk Schaffer proposed another version of the Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS), a safety system that is employed at the ends of airport runways to prevent airplane overruns.
In the letter, Schaffer outlines several elements that the federal government would like Santa Monica to consider prior to proceeding with an ordinance that was passed last year banning specific aircraft from the airport.
“I challenged my staff to put aside their previous work on this matter and approach the problem with fresh eyes and a clean sheet of paper,” Schaffer wrote. “I believe that they have done exactly that, as evidenced by these elements.”
The suggestions come shortly before the City Council is scheduled to hear a second reading of an ordinance passed unanimously in December that would prohibit certain aircraft from using the airport, which has seen an upsurge in airport use by larger and faster airplanes over the last decade.
The municipal law would limit the use of the airport to aircraft that operate safely within the capacity of the airfield’s facilities and are consistent with the standards for an “ARC B-II” airport, which is the classification for Santa Monica. ARC is the acronym for Airport Reference Code and ARC B-II indicates that the airfield is designed to accommodate aircraft with landing speeds of less than 121 knots and wingspan of less than 79 feet.
Category C aircraft are airplanes that travel at a speed of 121 knots or greater, but less than 141 knots, and aircraft that fall into Category D have speeds of 141 knots or greater, but less than 166 knots, according to the FAA.
The primary motivation for the ordinance was the concern of runway overruns into adjacent residential neighborhoods. Homeowners in these communities have long demanded the installation of adequate safety equipment to prevent runway overruns, which have the potential for causing considerable damage to their residences, due to their proximity to the runway.
The airport does not currently have safety measures installed at either end of its runway, which lies within 300 feet of residential neighborhoods.
Schaffer’s recommendations include installing a large safety system to protect against overruns and electronically notifying pilots who file a flight plan into or out of the airport.
The 70-knot safety device would be installed only at the departure end of the runway. The recommended safety feature is larger than an original proposal that Schaffer brought to Santa Monica in August, when he suggested a 49-knot safety installation.
“What we did here is to provide the community with another option to address their runway safety concerns,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “What this provides is an integrated approach to safety by including measures to prevent accidents if they occur.”
The Friends of Sunset Park, a Santa Monica neighborhood group that has tracked the history of the airport, the City Council and the FAA regarding runway safety, has reviewed the federal government’s recommendations. Cathy Larson, the chair of the neighborhood group’s airport committee, feels that the new measures that the FAA is proposing are inadequate for the runway’s safety needs.
“Basically, they are giving the city two options,” Larson told The Argonaut. “They can take a 70-knot EMAS [installation] at one end of the runway or they can take a substandard 49-knot installation on both sides.”
The FAA recently transitioned to what are called electronic Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMs. FAA officials have proposed two additional items along with these notices to pilots at Santa Monica Airport.
“The first order of business in safety is prevention; thus, the pilot will get an FAA InFO (Information For Operators) as part of runway safety area awareness programs,” Schaffer wrote. “Further, the pilot will get a copy of the Santa Monica “Fly Neighborly” program, including operations and noise abatement procedures, which [the city] devel- oped.”
Airport officials are also reviewing Schaffer’s recommendations.
“We’re currently analyzing the FAA’s proposal,” said Robert Trimborn, acting director of the Santa Monica Airport.
Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom, a Sunset Park resident who was mayor when the ordinance passed, does not feel that the measures that the FAA is recommending provide sufficient runway safety.
“My preliminary analysis tells me that the suggestions put forward by the FAA do not fully protect the neighborhoods near the airport,” said Bloom.
Like Bloom, Trimborn’s initial take on the FAA’s runway safety recommendation is that it falls short of what airport and city officials believe to be sufficient to ensure that pilots, airport personnel and residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are protected.
“The FAA proposal only affects one end of the runway,” Trimborn noted. “We can’t ignore the safety implications when one end of the runway does not have safety installation.”
Larson and her organization are opposed to any safety measure that that would not offer protection for all neighborhoods that ring the airfield.
“Our position has always been that we want equal protection for both sides of the runway,” she said. “One-sided offers and substandard safety measures are not acceptable to us.”
FAA officials believe that the proposed protection device is an upgrade from what they have previously offered to install at the airport.
“The 70-knot EMAS provides the equivalent of a 1,000-foot runway safety area, which Santa Monica has argued for in the past,” Gregor explained. “It would stop all aircraft and it is designed to stop C and D aircraft.”
Gregor said that there are environmental benefits to another recommendation that the FAA is making to city and airport officials instead of implementing the ordinance.
“To reduce noise and pollution, we are proposing a change in how aircraft line up on Runway 21, the airport’s primary runway,” he said. Currently, airplanes line up with their engines facing residential neighborhoods on Runway 21.
“In the new design, the engines will face the taxiway,” Gregor pointed out. “This new departure procedure would reduce the number of aircraft that idle on the ground.”
Schaffer will present his recommendations at the next City Council meeting.
Bloom said that he will wait until Schaffer makes his presentation before reaching any conclusions, but he believes that the current recommendations “do not satisfy safety measures on both ends of the runway. We owe it to protect people on both sides of the runways.”
Even if the ordinance passes again, subsequent negotiations between all parties involved are likely to occur, said Bloom.
“Completing the ordinance process does not preclude us from having continuing discussions with the FAA,” said the mayor pro tem.
The City Council is scheduled to hear the second reading of the airport ordinance Tuesday, March 25th.