A single-engine Australian manufactured airplane overran the west end of a runway at the Santa Monica Airport on Sunday, January 13th, according to airport officials.
The Jabiru J400, with tail number N522RJ, landed at the airport at approximately 6 p.m., according to Robert Trimborn, interim director of the Santa Monica Airport. “We still don’t know why this incident happened,” Trimborn said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the process of conducting an investigation into the accident. None of the four passengers or the pilot was injured.
“The aircraft did sustain some damage,” Trimborn said. The right wing of the Jabiru was bent and its landing gear and windscreen were heavily damaged.
“We have sent inspectors out to Santa Monica to inspect the airplane,” Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, told The Argonaut the day after the accident. “Our investigation is just beginning.”
The incident underscores the need for adequate runway safety devices at each end of the runway in addition to the passage of an ordinance to prohibit specific kinds of airplanes from using the airport, says Zina Josephs, president of the Friends of Sunset Park. “If the same type of accident had occurred with a larger plane, it could have had the potential for greater damage to one of our neighborhoods, and that’s what scares us,” said Josephs, whose neighborhood organization has led the fight to get the airport regulation approved.
In November, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on first reading to ban certain types of aircraft from the municipal airfield. Airplanes that fall under Categories C and D would be prohibited from landing and taking off from the airport, under the ordinance.
Category C aircraft are planes that travel at a speed of 121 knots or greater, but less than 141 knots, and planes that fall into Category D have speeds of 141 knots or greater, but less than 166 knots, according to the FAA.
The Jabiru J400 does not fall within the guidelines of prohibited airplanes.
The FAA, in a letter sent to the council last month, indicated its displeasure at the possibility of an ordinance that would prevent specific aircraft from using Santa Monica’s airfields.
“Let me speak very frankly, ladies and gentlemen,” wrote D. Kirk Shaffer, associate administrator of airports for the FAA. “What you are considering by this proposed ordinance is flatly illegal.”
Shaffer wrote that the federal agency is willing to continue discussions with Santa Monica, but cautions city leaders against passing the ordinance, calling it “ill-considered.”
Gregor categorized the Jabiru J400 that landed at the airport as “an experimental kit-built airplane,” which can be purchased and built from an airplane kit.
“An FAA-certified inspector must approve the construction of the airplane in order for the pilot to be able to fly it,” said the agency spokesman.
Residents of Sunset Park and other neighborhoods that surround the airport are concerned that there is no runway safety protection to prevent an airplane from careening off the runway and into their homes. There is approximately 300 feet between each runway and residential areas, but homeowners in Sunset Park say that one of the closest neighborhoods actually lies less than 200 feet from the runway.
Some Santa Monica and Mar Vista residents said they were grateful that there were no fatalities or property loss and that it was a single-engine plane, which had enough room to be able to stop without speeding into a residence. But they remain wary that the potential for an accident with far greater consequences can occur if a large jet from Categories C or D is involved.
“We’re always concerned anytime something like this happens,” said Albert Olson, who chairs the Mar Vista Community Council’s Airport Committee. “But what I’m most concerned about is if one of these mishaps happens with a jet, there will be no room for it to be able to stop like a single-engine plane.”
Josephs, who lives in Sunset Park, agrees.
“I’m relieved that no one was injured,” said Josephs. “But this illustrates that these kinds of accidents can occur.”
Ellen Mark, who lives near the west runway on Pier Avenue, added, “This airport cannot sustain the kinds of large airplanes that are landing there. If that had been a jet, we would be looking at a considerably larger crisis.”
Martin Rubin, executive director of the regional airport pollution advocacy group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, feels that it is just “a matter of time before there’s an incident like this with a jet airplane.”
In 2004, an airplane flying into the airport crashed into a home in Mar Vista, near the east runway. Colin Hatton, a board member on the Mar Vista Community Council, recalled watching the airplane crash two blocks from his home.
“When you see the number of large jets flying in and out of Santa Monica Airport, you think that it’s only a matter of time that it could happen again,” said Hatton.
A Santa Monica Airport staff report presented to the City Council before the November 27th meeting when the ordinance was passed seemed to buttress the worries of homeowners who live in close proximity to the runways.
“A high-performance plane overrunning the runway would likely careen into the neighborhood below,” states the report.
Trimborn confirmed this during an interview after the City Council meeting.
“If there were an incident of a plane that overran the runway, there is a 90 degree drop off onto one of the service roads, because neither the eastern or western end of the runways have any barriers,” he explained.
Gregor said that the FAA would be conducting interviews with airport personnel, the pilot and passengers.
“We will also be reviewing air traffic control tapes as part of our investigation,” Gregor said.
The pilot of the Jabiru J400 is from Boulder, Colorado, and had not been identified as The Argonaut went to press.
“Every time there’s an incident near the airport, our residential neighbors take notice,” said Santa Monica mayor pro tem Richard Bloom, who was mayor when the ordinance was approved in November. Bloom said that the council “did not take lightly” the significance of the ordinance passed in November. “We fully know how important this is, and we really have to keep in mind the safety of our residents and those who are flying,” he added.
Trimborn said the investigation would probably take five to six months before any definite conclusions regarding the cause of the accident are determined.