Taking advantage of a lull in air traffic during a rare closure of the Santa Monica Airport, City Councilman Kevin McKeown is in the process of seeking scientific analysis that may help city officials in their quest to highlight what many consider to be harmful impacts of noise and jet fumes from aircraft on homeowners who reside near the airport.
The city-owned airfield will be temporarily out of commission beginning Monday, Sept. 20 until Thursday, Sept. 23 to rejuvenate the runway. The airport began closing early Tuesday, Sept. 14.
A noise consultant and air quality experts will conduct baseline measurements during the four days that the airport will not be open as a means of providing data to federal lawmakers as well as the Federal Aviation Administration. There will be at least six controlled noise measurement points, from which noise intensity maps can be generated that show the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods of normal aircraft operations as compared to the ambient noise of the four days without aircraft operations, McKeown said.
Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D- Santa Monica) office will be apprised of the results of testing at the airport.
“We will be sharing the results of the comparative study showing how pollution and noise levels are affected by the brief closure with Rep. Waxman and all our federal representatives as well as with the FAA,” McKeown said in an interview a week before the testing was scheduled to begin. “Using unimpeachable professional scientists to gather and analyze the data will make our case all the stronger.”
The FAA cannot comment on a study that hasn’t begun and the results of which are unknown, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the federal agency.
In a letter to a constituent earlier this month, McKeown outlined what city officials were planning during the cessation in air traffic.
“I wanted to update you on what the city will do to take advantage of the opportunity to measure what life is like without constant aircraft,” the councilman wrote.
“We have now confirmed that the South Coast Air Quality Management District will be
taking scientifically valid pollution measurements using test sites from which they have accumulated past data, so we will be able to compare directly what air quality is like in the vicinity of the airport with and without aircraft.”
McKeown, who is running for his fourth term on the council, said the city’s actions during the airport closure are part of his long running strategy to engage the FAA in a dialogue regarding the impacts on the residents of the surrounding communities in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles, where residents have protested what they and some elected leaders say are detrimental effects to their quality of life.
Brian Bland, a Santa Monica resident, applauds McKeown’s plan but is leery that it will make any difference with the FAA.
“I think it offers an opportunity to get more hard data on the impacts of the airport,” said Bland, a member of the neighborhood runaway safety advocacy group Friends of Sunset Park. “Whether that makes a difference with the FAA is another question.”
Gregor said his agency already has policies in place that address toxins emitting from airplanes.
“We have procedures in place to limit jet exhaust at Santa Monica Airport. Specifically, we ask jet operators not to start their engines if we know there will be (Santa Monica) departure delays due to conflicts with (Los Angeles International Airport) departures,” he said.
Santa Monica Airport Director Robert Trimborn also views the air quality analysis and baseline noise study as the city’s endeavor to analyze and monitor data that could be helpful to the FAA and city officials to protect their residents, particularly those who live within the airport’s radius.
“It’s part of our continuing effort to analyze airport impacts on the neighborhoods,” he said.
Waxman indicated that he will be more engaged in what transpires at the general aviation airport during its temporary closure.
“I have met in recent weeks with my constituents in the communities surrounding the airport and share their concerns regarding the safety, noise, and air quality impacts of the airport,” the congressman told The Argonaut.
Trimborn said during the closure, the asphalt on the runway will be “rejuvenated” by cleaning contaminants from the surface and then applying the rejuvenator. The last time work was done on the runway was an asphalt overlay in 1994.
“This will bring the runway back to its original condition,” said Trimborn.
McKeown said that City Hall will continue to press for a complete environmental analysis on a proposed change in the flight path for piston-powered engine aircraft. The FAA conducted a six-month trial period last year that altered the flight path over Santa Monica residences.
“Likewise, we believe our insistence on a full federal environmental impact study by the FAA regarding the flight path change to the ‘250 Heading’ for IFR piston-powered aircraft will reveal serious overall environmental impacts of the airport that will help all of us sway the FAA to make changes,” he said.
Waxman also backs McKeown’s position on the proposed flight path change.
“I continue to believe that there should be a comprehensive environmental impact report for the proposed changes to the flight paths at the airport,” Waxman said.
Following the passage of a state Assembly joint resolution last month that requests the FAA to review aircraft noise and pollution levels and the safety of flight operations, the congressman said he would consider possible federal remedies to the aforementioned challenges.
“I also will continue to explore legislation options to address the concerns that have been raised at Santa Monica Airport, in consultation with the airport administrators,” Waxman pledged.
An interim analysis performed by the FAA indicates a reduction in departure delays from Santa Monica.
The city government is conducting the testing at its own expense, McKeown said.
“This is not only for our own neighborhoods, but for everyone who lives near the airport,” the councilman added.
Santa Monica’s aircraft noise consultant, Vincent Muestre of Muestre Greve Associates, did not return calls for comment.
“The FAA has claimed that we can’t separate out the noise and air quality degradation caused by the airport from all the other background automobile, traffic and other urban activity,” McKeown said. “Now we can.”
According to FAA records, annual operations at the airport have dropped by more than 50 percent since 1999.
In 1999, there were 230,000 operations at Santa Monica. In 2009, there were 113,000.