Concerned about safety and aircraft emissions, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday called for federal legislation that would change the takeoff route from Santa Monica Airport and close all six of its flight schools.
The resolution, which is not binding on Santa Monica or the Federal Aviation Administration, represents part of a broader strategy to shut down the popular aviation hub by 2015, when opponents believe federal requirements expire.
"An airport makes no sense in that urban environment with all the noise, air pollution and flights over neighborhoods," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who offered the resolution along with his colleagues Janice Hahn and Paul Koretz.
The action brought a swift response from airport supporters and FAA officials, who saidthat the airport has a good safety record, and that any effort to oust the flight schools and shut down the airport in four years could violate various federal agreements.
One flight school owner, Joe Justice of Justice Aviation, asked why the council was not taking action against the flight schools at Van Nuys Airport, which it has direct control over. Van Nuys is operated by Los Angeles World Airports, a city department.
"This is a political move on the part of Rosendahl and Hahn," Justice said. "It is not based on a solid history of what they are expounding on, like the safety of flight training. We haven't had one incident that ever came close to jeopardizing the community."
Federal records show that since 1980, eight accidents have occurred on the runway involving student pilots in flight training. No one was killed or seriously injured.
Council members voted 11 to 0 to support federal legislation for an administrative action that would close the flight schools and alter the current departure route that crosses the Penmar Golf Course and runs along Rose Avenue in Venice to the beach.
It was designed that way to minimize the number of homes planes would fly over, airport officials say.
The resolution stated that there are "increasing safety concerns" for surrounding neighborhoods because of flight school operations and a departure route that takes private planes within a few miles of airliners taking off from Los Angeles International Airport.
The measure also noted recent studies by UCLA and the South Coast Air Quality Management District that showed elevated levels of potentially hazardous particles from jet exhaust and lead from aviation gas used for propeller planes.
"Santa Monica has impacted the lives of Westside residents for decades," said Martin Rubin, an anti-airport activist who praised the council for taking action. "Los Angeles residents have felt frustrated that their complaints to Santa Monica officials have fallen on deaf ears."
While fine particles of exhaust and lead can have adverse health effects, no studies so far have shown a direct correlation between aircraft emissions from Santa Monica Airport and respiratory illnesses or other ailments in surrounding neighborhoods.
Airport supporters said the level of emissions has probably decreased because the number of jet operations fell to 12,853 last year, about 400 fewer than in 2001 and 5,722 fewer than in 2007. Overall flight operations have declined more than 60% since 1999.
However, jet operations are far more numerous than in the late 1980s, when there were only a few thousand annually.
FAA officials also said departing aircraft from Santa Monica and LAX have a three-mile separation requirement, and jets leaving both airports must be in contact with air traffic controllers.
"The close proximity of the two airports is by no means a safety issue," said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.