By Gary Walker
Users of the Santa Monica Airport will see a hike in landing fees beginning Thursday, Aug. 1.
The Santa Monica City Council passed a resolution at a special meeting in April raising the fees to $5.48 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft, and these new price guidelines could increase up to $5.89 per 1,000 pounds of aircraft by 2016.
The Federal Aviation Administration is requesting that city officials be upfront with the business owners at the airport regarding the fees. Many of the merchants own businesses related to air travel, including six pilot schools.
“The FAA is aware that Santa Monica Airport plans to increase the landing fee charges for airport users on Aug. 1. As is standard practice, the FAA has asked (Santa Monica Airport) to be transparent and fully disclose information to its tenants regarding the landing fee charges,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “The FAA encourages tenants and airports to use all reasonable efforts to reach agreement on airport rates and charges.”
Edward Storey, a pilot and board member of the Friends of Santa Monica Airport, argued against raising the fees.
“The airport is the destination for the economic roadway in the sky,” he told the council. “The raising of landing fees is madness.”
Approximately 95 people spoke at the special meeting, which also included an update of the city’s visioning process of what businesses and residents would like the general aviation airport to look like after 2015.
Many of the speakers opposed to the hike in fees were pilots and flight instructors who claimed that the new prices could put many of them out of business.
Others suggested that raising the rates is part of a larger plan to eventually close the airport, which some organizations and residents are in favor of doing.
Resident Gavin Stokes was not shy about accusing the council of what other speakers hinted at.
“We all know that these fees are about trying to drive airport business away,” Stokes alleged. “What they will do is invite litigation by violating some of the federal requirements that have already spelled out.”
The fact that the airport is breaking even is an “incredible accomplishment in this economic climate with astronomical fuel prices,” Stokes added.
Former Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl was and remains firmly in the camp of those in favor of closing the airfield.
“I support the closure. I think that we have a strategy that can work and I would like you to explore that possibility with (the Los Angeles) city attorney,” the former councilman, who resides less than a mile from the airport in Mar Vista, told the council.
After one pilot spoke, Santa Monica Councilman Tony Vazquez asked, “Are you aware that we’ve been subsidizing the landings for pilots at the airport for at least the last 10 years?”
Prior to Aug. 1, the landing fees were $2.07 per thousand pounds of certificated maximum gross landing weight.