The ‘Consent Decree’: Shame on Four Santa Monica Officials for their Total Capitulation

Yesterday, the Consent Decree announced on Saturday morning was signed, and a copy was shared online. The surprise of the Saturday announcement was one thing, and the extent of excessive capitulation by the City was a second shock, but the actual language in the Consent Decree (copy here) is, well, Trumpian.

Granted, there is no way the new White House cabinet gives a rat’s ass about the health impacts around Santa Monica Airport; they are too busy playing ‘King of the Mountain’, testing their power limits, dismantling our environment and our civility, all in the name of greed and profits. Of course, so is the case at Santa Monica: the bulk of these impacts are by charter jets, thus serving the tiniest demographic, the ascendant oligarchy.

Here’s the assessment of the Consent Decree by NoJets.org:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

And, here’s the assessment of the Consent Decree by attorney Jonathan Stein:

City of Santa Monica Reaches Settlement Agreement with FAA, Allows Shorter Runway and Eventual Closure – in 12 Years

The Santa Monica City Council announced in a Saturday press conference that they have agreed to a Consent Decree in which FAA will allow total closure of the airport [KSMO], but not until at least January 1, 2029.

Twelve years is a long time, and will mean a lot more health impacts due to jet air pollution. Some will see this as nothing but another unacceptable extension of FAA’s agreement with the City signed way back in January 1984, (1984 to 2029: FAA has dragged this out for 45-years!). That agreement was to allow City to assert full local control of their airport land, on July 1, 2015. FAA reneged on that promise, blocking City’s efforts and intent to close nearly two years ago. And, FAA abused their administrative authority to embrace – and even encourage – the use of Part 16 administrative complaints. FAA’s slow administrative processing of these complaints is used to perpetuate use of the airport while also impeding and delaying progress by the City.

The one element of the Consent Decree that offers residents some jet air pollution relief much sooner is this detail: the City will be allowed to reduce the length of the runway, to 3,500ft. While most of the present 4,973ft runway will likely be retained as pavement for safety overruns, the actual runway available for use will be reduced substantially, and the 30-passenger charter jet proposed by JetSuiteX (under a contract with an outfit called ‘Delux Public Charter’) will not be able to safely or legally operate.

Should the City have gotten better? Absolutely. Settlements are supposed to reflect a meeting in the middle, with proper consideration for both parties in a dispute. FAA continues to abuse their authority and play the bully in the playground, forcing communities like Santa Monica to expend thousands of hours of effort and even millions of taxpayer dollars fighting skirmishes enabled by FAA’s arrogant attitude. At the least, FAA should have granted City authority to exclude jets almost immediately, and absolutely once the runway is shortened. Why? Because the residential neighborhoods around Santa Monica are uniquely too close, and too impacted by jet pollution.

An actual signed copy has not yet been shared, but if the agreement has been signed, FAA has the power to repair this failure. Simply, FAA can declare that, due to health and safety concerns and unique local impacts, the Santa Monica runway is officially closed to jet arrival operations.

Here is FAA’s Press Release:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


See also:

UPDATE, 1/29/2017: — Reactions from activist groups question the City’s sincerity, and note the lack of transparency and trust. The Airport Protest Rally is still on for Saturday, February 4th, at 11AM. Here are more archived records:

Answers Needed in Santa Monica

For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.

Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.

ksmo-20130929-c525-crash-while-landing-rwy21-fig-22-from-video-study-distance-groundspeed-on-satview-ntsb

(yellow marks show aircraft position during the crash sequence; large numbers show the groundspeed decreasing from 83 knots to 51 knots at impact; smaller numbers show net distance from runway threshold)

Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. 20130929pic.. C525 crash at KSMO, ramp & smoke plumeThe accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.

This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.

For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).

kryy-20161230scp-alp-w-portion-of-runway-marked-up-for-rofas

(portion of the KRYY Airport Layout Plan. Red ellipses added, to identify the 400ft ROFAs, parallel to the north and south of the runway centerline. Not that the current hangars are much further than 400ft distant from the runway.)

But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. kryy-20161230scp-alp-portion-of-runway-data-table-declaring-ofa-distancesNote, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.

kryy-20161230scp-satview-of-airport-vicinity

The satellite image further illustrates yet another stark contrast with Santa Monica: look at all the wide open space, not just to enable a safe conclusion to an errant flight, but also to minimize noise and pollutant impacts on airport neighbors (it appears there are no residences close to KRYY; just a rock quarry, office parks, and highways).

So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?

A Few Simple Questions

Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:

  1. prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
  2. after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
  3. given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
  4. regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?

[KSMO]: A Video Collection of Speeches at a Protest in April 2007

The content and quality of presentation at this citizen protest is outstanding. The statements and the stories just scream out:

How can FAA and the Santa Monica Airport continue to do the damage being done, not just the noise but the serious health destruction, too?

This protest offers a great example for others, being impacted across the nation by an out-of-control FAA and aviation businesses. Perhaps viewing these will help you to become motivated to reclaim local control of your local airport … to serve the LOCAL COMMUNITY first, and to assure that the airport’s operations are properly balanced with the environment and local quality of life.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded. Click on the links within the PDF to view each video portion, uploaded to YouTube.

[KSMO]: No Runway Protection Zones, in Stark Contrast with Other Airports

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This RPZ, similar in size to what is needed to accommodate charter jets at Santa Monica, measures 500ft by 1010ft by 1700ft long. As is the case nearly everywhere, all obstructions were removed from this RPZ: there are no structures within the trapezoid, and the lines of trees have all since been removed (not even stumps are allowed… they are considered too dangerous).

A Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) is a trapezoidal space, positioned at the ends of all runways, designed to create a safety buffer for when aircraft fail to stay on the runway. Santa Monica has no meaningful RPZs. In fact, despite lots of searching, I have not been able to find any other U.S. airport with hundreds of homes standing inside the RPZ. The vast majority of U.S. airports have ZERO homes standing inside the RPZs.

This graphic illustrates where the Santa Monica RPZs would be, if FAA applied its safety standards there:

ksmo-20161223-rpzs-rwys-3-21-v2-labels-added

In contrast with the RPZ at KUAO, these safety areas at Santa Monica have hundreds of houses. (click on image for larger view)

Nationally, FAA has generally done a good job on RPZs; they have defined the dimensions, and they have firmly and consistently guided airport authorities to comply with these design standards that are needed to protect pilots, paying passengers and airport neighbors. FAA has thus secured safety control at essentially all airports, but NOT at Santa Monica. There, a close inspection of the RPZs shows approximately 270 homes exist in the Santa Monica RPZs, meaning that the RPZs are, frankly, nonexistent. Here are larger images; try to count the houses yourself:ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-sw-of-rwys-3-21 ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-ne-of-rwys-3-21Nice homes, in a beautiful area with the finest weather, yet these people endure air pollution, noise pollution, and the constant fear of an off-airport crash. This makes no sense, and it does not have to be this way.

How Does Santa Monica Compare With Other Airports?

The PDF below presents a compilation of satellite views, comparing airport RPZs for Santa Monica with thirteen other airports in five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada). Each of the airports selected for comparison is noted for heavy use by air charters and private bizjets. Two especially notable conclusions from this analysis are:

  1. homes are virtually never allowed to stand within RPZs, as it is just too dangerous. So, why hasn’t FAA either bought out the homes in the Santa Monica RPZs or, far more pragmatically, simply shut down jet operations there?
  2. if FAA shut down jets at Santa Monica, the capacity to absorb them at larger and safer airports in nearby Van Nuys [KVNY] and Burbank [KBUR] is enormous. As is typical throughout the U.S., both of these airports were built to accommodate traffic levels that have since declined by half.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

[KSMO]: Grossly Incompatible with the Community Around It

It has been a busy Fall at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO], where FAA is flexing its administrative-legal muscles, intervening to delay city efforts to evict two private operators. The City wants to take over fuel sales and other airport services (known as ‘FBO services’), but the private FBOs do not want to accept that their leases are expired, nor do they want to give up lucrative profits. Just like FAA does not want to adhere to the agreement they struck with the city, in 1984, which meant the city could outright close the airport in July 2015.

In a recent email, Nelson Hernandez, the Senior Advisor to the Santa Monica City Manager, offered yet another update on the city’s progress. He noted that, “…on August 23, Council directed the City Manager to establish a city-owned FBO by December 31, or as soon as practicable….” He then added, there is ample precedent for airport authorities (in this case, the City of Santa Monica) setting up their own FBO services at an airport, instead of letting an out-of-state operator reap the hefty profits. He noted three airports: “…in the last two years, Fort Wayne, Greenville, and Chattanooga, created their own City FBO for similar financial reasons….” He was referring to airports in Fort Wayne, IN [KFWA], Greenville, NC [KPGV], and Knoxville, TN [KDKX].

Out of curiosity, I did some online research and confirmed that, yes, all three of these airports have city-operated FBOs. And, all three appear to be very healthy airports. Nelson’s list of three airports included one with an FAA control tower [KFWA] and two with no control tower [KPGV] and [KDKX]). Here’s the data on these three airports, with [KSMO] added for comparison:

    • KFWA: 70 based aircraft, a 12,000ft runway and an 8,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 36,100 landings and takeoffs in 2015, down 71% from its peak year (124,000 ops in 2000). [3,400 acres, surrounded by farmland]
    • KPGV: 71 based aircraft, a 7,200ft runway, and a 5,000ft runway. Form 5010 shows 48,200 annual operations in the year ending 5/30/2016 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [872 acres, surrounded by forest, farmland and limited residential development]
    • KDKX: 167 based aircraft, and a single, 3,500ft runway. Form 5010 shows 68,400 annual operations in the year ending 4/30/2013 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [200 acres, surrounded by a river, a large quarry, and farmland]
    • KSMO: 249 based aircraft, and a single 5,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 90,200 annual operations in 2015, down 62% from its peak year (234,800 ops in 1991). [215 acres, surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods; and, within the airport, substantial footage is presently subleased to non-aviation business uses, generating profits for the FBOs.]

I noticed something else, too, which was a bit startling. You’ll see it starkly presented in the three image-pairs below. When you look at how Santa Monica’s runway is shoe-horned into the neighborhoods, and when you compare it to the ‘airport normality’ of these other three, far less crowded airport locations, it just jumps out at you. And, when you look at the series of images showing how many houses were removed in recent years for a runway expansion at a very slow Greenville airport, you just have to wonder how in the world people can coexist with business jets so close to their Santa Monica homes. I mean, if FAA moves people out of their homes in Greenville, what is it about Santa Monica homeowners that makes them less at risk than North Carolinians? And given that there are so many Santa Monica homes, would it not make the most sense to simply close the airport??

Clearly, each of these three airports is far more compatibly located than is the Santa Monica Airport. In fact, looking at these three, I just have to say: if I was the new FAA Administrator, I’d be quick to ask my new highly-paid subordinates:

“Why are we NOT working with the city to expedite closing this airport? After all, it is grossly incompatible with the community (look at all those houses, and so close to the runway!), it is clearly a health hazard, and we have plenty of other LA Basin airports and longer, safer runways to serve the business jets and general aviation, all of which are far below their historic high traffic levels. So, when are we going to start serving everyone, not just our buddies who employ us after we retire?”

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kdkx-sat-views-w-rwy-lengths-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kpgv-sat-views-w-rwy-lengths-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kfwa-sat-views-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people


UPDATE, 12/6/2016: — per a request, click here for a PDF version of this entire Post.

KSMO: City Moving Forward on Evictions of Main FBOs – Atlantic Aviation & American Flyers

“…This morning the City filed unlawful detainer actions against Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. As you know, both companies were given 30 day notices to vacate on September 15; both failed to vacate by the required date of October 15. Please see the attached press release for more detailed information….”

– Nelson Hernandez, Senior Advisor to the City Manager

Click here for further info (archived copy of the City’s news release)

[KSMO] Update: City Issues 30-Day Notices for Both Airport FBO’s to Vacate

It has been many decades of hard work, and the end-result may soon be here: closure of this unneeded airport to eliminate health hazards, add parks, and better serve the local community.

Airport neighbors are severely impacted, mainly by charter jets and repetitious flight instruction in the airport traffic pattern. Noise of course, but also lead, carbon soot, and other hazardous pollutants. Neighbors and the City have been trying since at least the 1970s to regain control of their local airport. They have judiciously refused to accept any new grant offer for more than two decades, with the goal of timing out FAA’s right to manage and control from afar in Washington, DC, via ‘grant obligations’. That timed out last year… but then FAA arbitrarily reset the timeout date to 2023.

Following the decisive vote by city council on August 23rd, formal letters were sent to both airport FBOs, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. Below is a scrollable PDF copy of a news report by a pro-aviation online media outlet; predictably, it contains plenty of bias, and the reader comments illuminate that bias even further.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

The other notable recent news at KSMO was the filing AGAIN of yet another Part 16 complaint, this time by Atlantic Aviation. FAA’s true role, as evidenced by their history, is to cover for industry players; this includes their dog-and-pony-show complaint program called ‘Part 16’. This is strictly an administrative review process, and it is used to create an illusion of legitimacy for those complaints, which routinely are filed by legal teams representing one airport tenant or a small group of elite airport operators. The resultant FAA paperwork, and the expense in time and money FAA wastes handling these Part 16 complaints, is both phenomenal and absurd.

An ‘FBO‘ is a ‘fixed base operator’. At most small airports, there is typically one FBO and they thus hold a monopoly on the profits to be gained selling fuel, providing instruction, chartering planes and servicing aircraft. Consistent with politics today, it is not uncommon for an airport authority to be cronyistic and award the lucrative FBO rights to connected friends. For example, at Santa Monica, millions of dollars in lease revenues were effectively forfeited by the City and instead given as a massive subsidy to Atlantic, when the City authorized lucrative subleasing of hangars and non-aviation office space by Atlantic Aviation lease. The lease payments to the City pale in comparison to the sublease revenues paid to Atlantic. Here are images from Atlantic’s latest Part 16 complaint, offering those numbers:

ksmo-20160913scp-item3-from-atlantic-aviation-fbo-inc-v-city-of-santa-monica-part-16-complaintsublease-revenues-to-atlantic-aviation

Item#3 in the Atlantic Aviation Part 16 Complaint: Atlantic is receiving $222K monthly by subleasing; they pay under $17K monthly to the City.

ksmo-20160913scp-top-portion-of-item6-from-atlantic-aviation-fbo-inc-v-city-of-santa-monica-part-16-complaintmonthly-rent-paid-by-atlantic-aviation

Item#6 in the Atlantic Aviation Part 16 Complaint: Atlantic pays the City $17K monthly; the collect $222K monthly in sublease revenues. Note that fuel flowage fees are a pass-through… a common practice nationwide, where the FBO collects a few cents per gallon as a small tax, then forwards it to the airport authority.

With this transition, the City is intending to take on the expense (and reap the considerable revenues) from directly leasing properties they own, and from selling fuel at the airport. And, along with those benefits, City aims to slowly reassert the local control that never should have been taken away by FAA.


UPDATED 9/23/2016
See also:
  • 9/22/2016 – Letter to FAA, by a North Westdale resident. excerpt: “…only those wealthy enough to own and fly personal jet aircraft seem to be served by you and your office…” (1p)
  • 9/19/2016 – Motion Asking FAA to Issue Cease & Desist Order (6p)
  • 9/19/2016 – ‘City to Santa Monica FBOs: You Have 30 Days to Vacate’ .. (article by Matt Thurber, AINonline, 2p)
  • 9/15/2016 – Notice to Vacate, issued to American Flyers (2p)
  • 9/15/2016 – Notice to Vacate, issued to Atlantic Aviation (3p)
  • 9/15/2016 – ‘Santa Monica evicts private airport operators’.. (article by KPCC SoCal Public Radio; includes link to audio)

[KSMO] Update: Officials Vote to Close the Airport, So Some Pilots Want a Federal Takeover

Flying always has been an activity where you depend on yourself first, where you MUST perform responsibly as an individual decision-maker, or you can end up dead in a smoldering debris field. Intertwined with this is the fact pilots traditionally are strong advocates for individual rights and local authority. It’s a philosophy, a set of values, arguably the best part of conservatism.

So, who would have thought that pilots would be hoping Federal bureaucrats would take over airports like the one in Santa Monica? Yet, this is what some pilots are now hoping for. Here’s a PDF of a recent GA News article, with reader comments, about the latest events in Santa Monica:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

I grew up with aviation. My main role model as a kid was my father, a brilliant and gifted man with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering from MIT. He grew up in the golden age of aviation – he was born not long after Lindbergh’s first flight across the Atlantic – and he shared his enthusiasm for engineering and aviation with all of us kids. For years, he worked for Boeing in Seattle; many summer weekends were spent at small airports, helping out and catching rides in my dad’s 2-seat glider. Eventually, though somewhat accidentally, I ended up spending the best years of my work life as an FAA air traffic controller. (of course, I was also a Whistleblower, and forced to retire early; story here)

That’s all background. The point to be made is this: I know from five+ decades of experience how conservative and individualistic aviators tend to be. These characteristics serve them well. And so, it is just crazy, that today we have pilots calling for the federal bureaucrats to take over the airport at Santa Monica. Just crazy.


See also:

Santa Monica City Council Votes Unanimously to Close Airport ASAP

“…Through our unanimous vote tonight, the Council demonstrated our commitment to stop the harmful impacts the Airport has on our community. Transitioning our land into a ‘great-park’ is the single most transformative action this Council can take. The land needs to be transformed from a source of pollution and potential danger, into a community asset….”

– Mayor Tony Vazquez

Here’s the full news release, and the source: KSMO.20160824.. 'Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport' (City of Santa Monica news release)