Lawmakers and residents on both sides of the Santa Monica Airport are staking out dissenting opinions regarding the results of a recent report that found no significant difference in the level of airport noise during a six-month test for a possible new departure route.
A report presented at the Sept. 27 Santa Monica Airport Commission meeting indicated that there had been no major rise in noise levels during a trial period of 180 days that ended in June for a possible new take-off route over Santa Monica conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The 250-degree heading pertains to instrument flight rules governing piston-powered aircraft that would be flying over the Santa Monica neighborhoods of Ocean Park and Sunset Park. The current flight path has planes turning over Penmar Golf Course in Venice.
The city’s aviation consultant, Vincent Mestre of Mestre Greve Associates, presented the noise modeling study. Mestre’s calculations were based on an average of approximately eight aircraft flown daily over the trial flight route during the test period in order to compare and contrast the FAA’s claims, according to airport officials.
Los Angeles resident Martin Rubin, the director of an umbrella organization that has lobbied Santa Monica and airport officials to utilize noise and pollution studies to determine how jet traffic has harmed the neighborhoods surrounding the airport, questioned the validity of the noise study.
“The methods for accurately measuring as well as accurately modeling noise impacts from the airport on neighbors are questionable and should be reviewed,” said the leader of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution.
A Santa Monica group, Neighbors for a Safe & Healthy Community, also challenged Mestre Greve’s report.
“We welcome any studies that are conducted with the proper scope,” said Lisa Hughes, an Ocean Park resident and co-founder of the organization. “To include only eight planes in the study when many residents have testified that there were many more on a daily basis is simply untrue.”
Thane Roberts, another member of Hughes’ group, called the study “a waste of taxpayer money” because of what he and others claim are inaccuracies in the number of airplanes that residents reported flying over their homes during the FAA test period.
Santa Monica Airport Director Robert Trimborn said the presentation was on the instrument flight rules test for piston-powered airplanes only and another consultant has been hired to perform the visual flight rules test.
In addition to those tests, the commission has also asked to have real-time Santa Monica Airport flight track information included on the airport’s Web site and have an aviation law firm review all technical operational factors in order to build an argument against the potential new heading.
“The presentation was only one part of a three-part approach that the city is pursuing regarding airport safety and noise mitigation,” Trimborn explained.
City Councilman Kevin McKeown, perhaps the council’s most outspoken member on the airport, concurred that there will be much more data to analyze besides what was presented at last month’s commission meeting.
“The report presented to the airport commission was just the first of three actions on increased noise and safety concerns, and only the beginning of a comprehensive strategy from Santa Monica to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that the airport is increasingly incompatible with the neighborhoods surrounding it,” McKeown said, echoing Trimborn’s remarks.
“The city of Santa Monica is in a Washington, D.C. court fighting the FAA about jets that are too large and fast for this runway. We will also soon have new air quality information from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, due to the measurements I suggested be taken during the recent four-day closure.”
The councilman was referring to a four-day period from Sept. 20 to Sept. 23 when the airport was shut down to allow air quality experts to conduct baseline measurements during a time when there was no airport traffic.
Trimborn says the real-time traction system can bring significant value to the airport and to those who live near the airfield. “This will allow the public to see which aircraft they believe have triggered specific noise complaints,” he said.
Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, said the federal agency typically does not comment on studies by outside agencies.
Federal lawmakers who represent the neighborhoods that surround the airport as well as Venice have also weighed in on the possible flight path change. Reps. Henry Waxman (D- Santa Monica) and Jane Harman (D-Venice) wrote a joint letter to the FAA on Sept. 20 requesting a complete environmental impact statement (EIS) for a new flight path if the federal agency decides to change the departure route.
“It is imperative that the FAA produce a complete and thorough environmental impact statement and hold public meetings to explain the purpose and results of the recent flight path test, hear from affected homeowners and assess the broader safety, noise and air quality impacts of air traffic in the midst of densely populated neighborhoods,” the lawmakers wrote.
Harman and Waxman also touched on the outcry from homeowners who complained vociferously during the test about the change and the refusal of the FAA to hold any public hearing before or during the procedure.
“Sensitivity about issues at the airport has been most heightened following a test initiated by the FAA in December 2009 to change the flight path of certain departures to separate traffic from flights departing Los Angeles International Airport in order to reduce aircraft idling at both airports,” they wrote. “Regrettably, the FAA failed to conduct meaningful community outreach about the goals and objectives or the expected impact of the six-month test.
“While supporters of the test welcome the air quality improvements associated with reduced idling, the Santa Monica Airport staff also received thousands of complaints from residents living in the tested flight-path.”
McKeown emphasized that each component of the city’s approach is geared toward the city regaining the airfield from the federal government five years from now.
“What we hope to do is build a record of evidence that not only helps get short-term changes made to protect everyone who lives near the airport, but helps us win the ability to take control of the airport property when the current FAA agreement expires in 2015,” the councilman explained. “We know the FAA will contest this every step of the way, so we are building regional consensus and getting great help from Reps. Waxman and Harman.”
Rubin noted that Santa Monica requested a departure procedure change in 1991 that sent instrument flight rules for takeoffs west of the airport over Venice and away from Santa Monica, which the FAA granted.
“With just a couple of jets taking off each day, the change did not result in an outcry like we are hearing today,” he said.
FAA Regional Manager William Withycombe sent a letter to Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould on Sept. 24 in response to Gould’s request for an EIS.
“We are working diligently to acquire the information we need to respond to your request. Currently, we are still in the process of analyzing the 250-degree heading test results,” Withycombe’s letter states. “We expect to finalize our analysis within the next several months.
“While the preliminary results look promising, we cannot clarify our intent to complete a full EIS and public process until we have completed a thorough evaluation of all the results.”
Roberts took issue with the way that what he feels is inaccurate data was presented to the commission and subsequently to the public.
“If this is an example of what (Trimborn) has presented to the commission and the consultant, I would not have a lot of confidence in anything else that the commission presents,” he stated.
McKeown realizes that some of his constituents were unhappy with the results, and he feels that airport officials could have perhaps done a better job of explaining that the report was the first of three components of the city’s plan regarding safety and noise mitigation.
“I think the problem was more a lack of communication on airport staff’s part at Monday’s meeting than a lack of a comprehensive plan on the city’s part,” he acknowledged.
Hughes says it was not accurate to gauge how Ocean Park and Sunset Park residents were affected during the testing period using the consultant’s report.
“For the FAA or the city to base the impact on a community using only eight flights a day is ridiculous,” she asserted.