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L.A. council members urge Santa Monica Airport to close flight schools

Council members Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn also want an experimental takeoff route over Santa Monica neighborhoods made permanent despite thousands of protests.

March 11, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

Two Los Angeles City Council members Thursday called for Santa Monica Airport to shut down its six flight schools and make permanent an experimental takeoff route over neighborhoods even though it triggered thousands of complaints last year.

Responding to Los Angeles residents in nearby Venice, Mar Vista and West Los Angeles, council members Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn introduced a resolution asking their colleagues to support the flight school closures and a departure procedure that for six months had required certain propeller aircraft to head toward the ocean over the Santa Monica neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Ocean Park.

The usual departure path from the airport is over Penmar Golf Course and Rose Avenue to the beach in Venice.

Rosendahl said the measures are part of the political strategy to get the airport closed by 2015. For decades, there have been disputes over flight paths, noise, emissions and the type of jets that can operate there.

Hahn and Rosendahl contend that the proposals, which will be considered in the weeks ahead, are needed to stop "dangerous manuevers" by student pilots over densely populated areas and to reduce noise as well as air pollution in residential neighborhoods.

Both cited a recent UCLA study that showed high levels of potentially hazardous particles from jet exhaust around the airport. They also mentioned a crash on Penmar Golf Course last summer that involved an airplane rented from a flight school at Santa Monica.

A licensed commercial pilot who had been practicing landings on his own was killed. The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to determine the cause of the accident.

"The last crash happened over a golf course," Rosendahl said, "and I'm not going to wait to move on this until the next one happens over another neighborhood in our district."

NTSB records show that since 1980, eight accidents involving student pilots in flight training have occurred on the runway. Although aircraft were damaged, no one was killed or seriously injured, investigators said.

"There have been zero accidents in training flights involving my company," said Joe Justice, the owner of Justice Aviation at the airport. "This danger they perceive is somewhat unrealistic. I don't think they (the council members) know what a dangerous manuever is. They are not pilots."

In addition, Santa Monica could violate provisions of federal airport improvement grants it has received if it forces out the flight schools without adequate justification.

Hahn and Rosendahl said they want the Federal Aviation Administration to reinstate a takeoff route the agency experimented with for a limited number of propeller planes flying under instrument flight rules. Hahn added that she would like the FAA to consider requiring the departure route for more aircraft, including jets.

The FAA is now analyzing the effect of the test as well as the validity of thousands of complaints from Sunset Park and Ocean Park residents. Ian Gregor, an agency spokesman, said an initial review shows that the experimental route reduced departure delays for aircraft at Santa Monica and nearby Los Angeles International Airport.

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