Angered over an airplane crash that cost a 60-year-old pilot his life, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is asking Santa Monica officials to close the flight school where the pilot was practicing landing techniques.
Robert Davenport was at the helm of a single-engine Cessna 152 July 1 when his plane crashed near the eighth hole of the nine-hole Penmar Golf Course in Venice, prompting a flurry of reaction from city and federal elected representatives.
“I don’t believe a training academy, if it really means physically flying that plane off of the runaway, is a good idea,” Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice, said. “I think it’s a safety issue that has got to be dealt with, and I would like to start by shutting that school down.
“This is not a location for training when you’re in a dense urban environment.”
The councilman noted that there are no buffer zones at the end of the airport’s runway, unlike other general aviation airfields, and residential neighborhoods lie within 300 feet of the runway.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) contacted J. Randolph Babbitt and Deborah Hersman, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, respectively, after the crash. In a letter to both Babbitt and Hersman, Harman mentioned an accident that occurred at the end of the airport runway last year that was not a fatality.
“After that accident, I wrote you about my Santa Monica Airport concerns and asked you to examine the specifics of the crash with a view toward assessing the ongoing safety risks of operations at the airport,” the congresswoman wrote. “Now there has been another crash, and I worry that the airport is intrinsically unsafe.
“(The July 1) crash could have resulted in more deaths if the plane had hit someone on the golf course or a nearby home,” Harman added.
The Argonaut learned that Davenport was practicing his landing procedure with the Santa Monica flight school Justice Aviation and also confirmed that he was not a student aviator, as was previously reported by other news outlets.
“He was not a novice pilot in any shape or form,” said Santa Monica Airport Director Robert Trimborn.
Joseph Justice, the proprietor of Justice Aviation, told The Argonaut that Davenport had a commercial rating as a pilot. He confirmed Davenport had been practicing what are known as “touch and go” landings, where a pilot essentially lands on a runway without coming to a full stop and then takes off again.
“No one who has learned to fly at our school has ever been involved in a fatal accident,” Justice said.
Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman with the FAA, confirmed that Davenport held a commercial/instrument pilot certificate and a current third class medical certificate.
“Mr. Davenport was
performing touch-and-go landing maneuvers at the time of the accident. The NTSB is in charge of the accident investigation and no cause has been determined at this time,” Kenitzer said.
The flight school, which has been in business since 1991, offers private and commercial pilot training. Its Web site states that it is the “largest flight school and rental aircraft fleet” in Los Angeles.
A representative of a grassroots organization that monitors the airport’s operations says the accident is a harbinger for things to come for nearby residents, including those in Venice.
“Santa Monica Airport is situated like an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes, and like an aircraft carrier, there isn’t room for mistakes,” said Martin Rubin, the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, an organization that has lobbied for improved air quality at the general aviation airport. “To airport neighbors, this Penmar crash is like an earth tremor, a reminder of the reality that exists.”
Rubin’s organization does not advocate closing Justice Aviation but they are asking for the practice of “touch and go” to be banned at the airport.
“Aircraft are restricted from flying over sensitive areas like government buildings. Any practice that resembles ‘touch and go’ operations at an airport surrounded by a vulnerably populated area should also be restricted,” Rubin said. “Those who need to practice these procedures should travel to an airport that is situated in a suitable area.”
Justice, who said his school has a very good safety record, was at the scene, like Rosendahl, when Davenport died at the golf course.
“It’s never pleasant when something like that happens,” he said.
Rosendahl, a former Venice resident, remembers hearing airplanes over his home when he lived in the coastal community.
“After five years of it, I couldn’t take it anymore,” he recalled. “I had had it with the airplane noise and I moved to Mar Vista.”
Rubin said he has heard little from Santa Monica city leaders regarding the golf course accident or the landing procedure.
“It is interesting that Los Angeles City Councilman Rosendahl is the most publicly pro-active regarding Santa Monica Airport,” Rubin stated. “Replies to my communications from Santa Monica city officials are rare, and that is disappointing.”
He added that having no response from the city’s leaders is not surprising, given the fact that Rubin claims they have ignored his pleas for a health risk assessment of air pollution from the jets at the airfield.
Santa Monica Councilwoman Gleam Davis said there has not been a great deal of information available about the cause of the accident.
“I don’t have enough information yet to make an informed judgment on (the crash),” she said.
Davis did say that the airport and area flight schools should be cognizant of the residential neighborhoods when considering their aviation practices.
“We need to make sure that we’re protecting people on the ground and the nearby residents,” the councilwoman said.
Harman believes that Rosendahl’s call to shut down Justice Aviation has some merit.
“I understand that Councilman Bill Rosendahl has called for the closing of the flight school, and I believe that request should be given serious consideration,” she wrote.
Justice, a Westchester resident, naturally disagrees with the call to close his flight school.
“I live two blocks away from LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) but I’m not asking for it to be shut down,” he said.
NTSB investigator Tealeye Cornejo did not return calls by press time.