Airport noise creates controversy


For years, the sound of planes taking off and landing at the Santa Monica airport has been a topic of discussion and debate for the residents of Santa Monica who live near the runway.

In 1984, the city of Santa Monica adopted an aircraft noise ordinance as part of the airports municipal code that states, among other things, "No aircraft shall exceed a noise level of ninety-five decibels," and while some neighbors are upset about the noise levels, others who live in the area don't seem to mind it too much.

Donna Rosescu, who has lived on Marine Street at the end of the runway for the last ten years, says the noise doesn't bother her too much because she works during the day. However, she does admit there are a few down sides to living there. "Every now and then when it is overcast or cloudy the jets can be pretty loud and the smell of jet fuel is in the air," said Rosescu, "but aside from that, the noise isn't really an issue for me."

Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, lives on Navy Street just one block south of the Rosescu house. She grew up in the neighborhood some 50 years ago and has lived there most of her life.

Rather than seeing the airport as a problem, she wonders why people move into the neighborhood knowing there is an airport nearby or in this case, at the end of the street. "I grew up in this house," she said, "I have never had a problem with the noise, why would I live here if I did?"

Stephen Mark, who is a current member of the Santa Monica Airport Commission, and his wife Ellen also live on Navy Street and have been bothered by the noise ever since they moved in.

"The jets are the most upsetting in terms of the noise," said Mark, "You really have to love airplanes to love the noise."

While the sound of the smaller, single engine planes aren't cause for too much complaint the increase in jet traffic has become an issue over the last several years. Yet, the most recent noise report presented by the Airport Commission at their May 24 meeting showed that not only is jet traffic responsible for only ten percent of the overall traffic at the Santa Monica Airport, but that jet traffic had decreased five percent from a year ago.

The Commission also reported that the ten noise violations that were reported in April was a 29 percent decrease from a year ago, and also reported that there has been a 99.9 percent compliance with the noise ordinance.

Night landings and take-offs, which don't happen often, and are always approved by the airport, have been a problem for residents who want the neighborhood quiet at night. But as it turns out, night departures are at times necessary.

Joe Justice, who has owned and operated Justice Aviation at the Santa Monica Airport for 20 years, explained that every pilot who carries passengers with them must have completed three night take-offs and landings every 90-day period.

"We don't have the option of saying no," says Justice, "We could tell them to go to another airport but that would cost them money."

He explained, "Plane rental will run you about $120 an hour depending on the aircraft, then there is the instructor fee which can cost anything from $60-$100. That brings your total to about $200 an hour for a plane. Flying to another airport like nearby Hawthorne, which has very few night restrictions is an option but would still cost extra."

One of the ideas that Justice has come up with is to have the city compensate the pilots for the extra time it would take to fly to another airport. "We don't have a tremendous amount of students here," says Justice, "the city could say, for each one your students that wants to fly at night, here's $200 for that student to go somewhere else." He added, "The FAA, in the 1984 agreement, and the rules that exist allow us to do it, so if they desire a change then I'm ok with it, but for the city to say that we should absorb it or the students should absorb it, making their cost higher, isn't right."

Another concern the residents have is the possibility of crashes that can occur shortly after take- off or before landing. The airport is surrounded by neighborhoods and past incidents have some residents worried about what's next. 

The most recent crash occurred in July of 2010 when a single engine place, a Cessna 152, crashed on the eighth hole at the Penmar golf course, which is also located at the end of the runway. The pilot, who was the only person on board, was killed.

The plane originated from Justice Aviation and was not being flown by a student but instead by an experienced commercially rated pilot. The investigation of the crash determined the cause to be pilot error.

In the 92-year history of the airport, there has not been a single death or injury involving the people outside the aircraft that crashed, a remarkable statistic considering the surrounding areas.

"I think that most people forget that in most cases if an airplane has a problem, if the pilot has control, which they do most of the time, the pilot will steer towards areas that are open," says Justice.

"They do this for two reasons: for the safety of others and for the safety of themselves," he added. "Hitting a house is not a good experience. Most pilots in an emergency situation are not going to aim for something with people in it. 

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