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Residents Target Airport Safety, Noise at Meeting : Transportation: Coalition of neighbors also levies complaints to local and federal officials about flight patterns.

August 18, 1994|ADRIAN MAHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 200 residents packed a recreation center Tuesday night to complain angrily about increased air traffic, flight patterns over neighborhoods and low-flying aircraft associated with Santa Monica Airport.

The meeting at the Penmar Recreation Center in Venice was called by Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills), whose district includes the Marina del Rey and Venice areas near the airfield, one of the busiest single-runway facilities in the nation. Federal and local authorities also attended.

The meeting, which lasted three hours and included heated testimony from homeowners living under the airport's flight paths, was called to address a list of safety and noise control recommendations from an ad-hoc safety committee composed of residents, pilots and airport officials. It was formed after three fatal plane crashes in the densely populated neighborhoods near the airport in the last nine months. Nobody on the ground was killed.

The 20-member committee has asked federal and airport officials for increased pilot education, an evaluation of the airport's complaint process, more aggressive distribution of noise abatement and safety policies to pilots, and additional aircraft inspections (many recent crashes have been blamed on engine trouble).

Mark Wirth, a Harman aide, said the congresswoman's staff is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on the recommendations. "We have received a letter from the FAA committed to dealing with these proposals," he said.

Jeff Kruger, a Galanter aide, said the councilwoman has received dozens of complaints in the past few months about the airport, primarily concerning noise.

A typical complaint from many at the meeting was the 95-decibel limit at the airport set by a 1984 agreement between the city of Santa Monica and the FAA. Many say the level is too high and is violated on a daily basis.

"I work at home, and the planes are always over us--you can't even think," said Frieda Marlin, a resident in the 795-unit Lincoln Place Apartments, just southwest of the runway. "We've always had lots of birds, but they sure don't sing anymore."

Airport manager Tim Walsh said the decibel limit was reached after arduous negotiations that included residents, airplane manufacturers' and pilots' associations, and was unlikely to be changed.

"However, we will make a commitment to put sound-monitoring equipment on houses west of the airport," he said.

Other residents griped about pilots who fail to adhere to the airport's recommended flight pattern, which remains a "tricky little maneuver," Walsh said. Shortly after takeoff, pilots must veer left over the Penmar Golf Course to avoid residential neighborhoods. After flying over the course, they must continue to Lincoln Boulevard before they can turn south. Planes going north must fly out to the ocean before turning.

Many residents said they want all pilots to make their primary turns over the ocean and not over nearby residences.

Other neighbors want the airport to scale back student flight patterns that they consider most bothersome and dangerous. In these flights, which make up 28% of the airport's air traffic, the planes often remain under 1,400 feet and execute a landing followed by an immediate takeoff.

Walsh said the airport has already cut back on such traffic, which made up 37% of total flights in 1990.

The airport has averaged one crash per 200,000 air operations, or about one a year--a better record than the U.S. average of five per 100,000 takeoffs and landings.

FAA officials said they hope to build on that record and will implement a "safety room" at the airport in September that will feature additional pilot instruction.

Recent Fatal Crashes

April 20, 1994: Pilot Patrick Dean Brinnon, 36, died after his single-engine plane developed engine trouble shortly after takeoff and crashed into the garage of a house in the 2300 block of Ashland Avenue in Santa Monica, about 100 yards from the airport.

March 11, 1994: Passenger Gregory Leslie, 35, was killed, and student pilot David Thompson, 22, suffered a broken arm and second-degree burns on his arm and hands after a four-seat Piper 28 developed engine trouble shortly after takeoff and crashed into an unoccupied house at 2734 S. Barrington Ave. in West Los Angeles.

Nov. 26, 1993: Pilot Roy Belzer, 40, and two passengers, Steven Pollack 34, the son of film director Sydney Pollack, and David Lyon, 35, were killed after their single-engine plane stalled while circling above the Santa Monica Pier and crashed in a residential neighborhood in Venice, 1.5 miles west of the airport.

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