Scheduled Charter Jets at Santa Monica: ‘Are You Kidding Me?’

Recent news articles report that a charter operator hopes to start flying 30-seat Embraer E135 jets on scheduled flights out of Santa Monica [KSMO]. Rumor has it they are already selling tickets. This sounds crazy, because there is no evidence that the operator has first obtained an approval for these operations, at an airport that appears to not conform with FAA’s runway safety design standards, as required for this type of operation and aircraft.

FAA requires airports to provide emergency equipment and design elements that will adequately protect the public. A first step in this process is to assess the airport and assign an Airport Reference Code, or ARC. The ARC is defined by the size and speed of the most demanding aircraft to use the airport at least 500 times in a year. The Embraer E135 has a maximum takeoff weight nearly 42,000 pounds, a 67 feet 9 inch wingspan, and an approach speed around 130 knots. FAA considers the E135 to be a ‘C-II’, and the airport has to be designed accordingly.

For safety, all airports have a defined Runway Protection Zone (RPZ), typically a set of trapezoidal areas delineated reference the approach end and departure end of the runway. The RPZ for a C-II airport, as would serve the E135, can be seen on airport master plans across the nation, and measures 500ft and 1000ft on the ends, by 1,700ft long. An RPZ is ideally OWNED by the airport authority, and is to be clear and level to accommodate errant flights; the ONLY structures allowed are those necessary for the airport, such as lighting and navigational aids.

Just to get an idea of how incompatible and unsafe the KSMO runway geometry is, here is a trio of satellite images. The first is a screencap showing the approach end of KSMO Runway 21, with a thin red 500ft circle added, centered on the end of the runway; lots of houses, and yet the full C-II RPZ extends roughly 1,400ft further to the east!

ksmo-20161221scp-apch-end-rwy-21-w-500ft-radius-into-surrounding-homes

Bing satellite view with 500ft radius circle added. It strongly appears that, if FAA were to serve the entire Public (not just the airport operators who are enabled by FAA’s shoddy performance), FAA would not allow scheduled E135 flights at KSMO without first buying out hundreds of homes and moving Bundy Drive far to the east.

The second screencap of a satellite view shows what the same 500ft circle looks like at Hayward [KHWD], where the nearest homes are approximately 800ft from the end of the runway. Notice how wonderfully clear, flat and open the area is, to safely contain any accidents that can and do happen … and notice the contrast with KSMO.khwd-20161221scp-apch-end-rwy-28l-w-500ft-radius-nearest-home-800ft

The third image shows what FAA wants – (and what the Public needs!) – at all certified airports: runways away from homes, with full RPZs. This example shows the Tallahassee, FL airport [KTLH] in comparison with KSMO; both at the same scale, one airport on wide open flat land, the other airport wedged in between mature residential neighborhoods.ksmo-20161221scp-satview-comparison-ksmo-v-ktlh-bing-comSo, an air charter operator may already be selling tickets for scheduled jet flights out of KSMO, and the FAA is saying nothing.

Are you kidding me!?!!!!!?!

Where is the safety regulation here? Where is the application of all the Airport Design standards in Advisory Circular AC 150/5300-13A? Doesn’t FAA have to ensure Part 139 is followed for these 30-seat charter flights?