Student-pilots refuse to stay on ground

Flying in a prop plane over the Santa Barbara mountains, turbulence hit. The plane was out of the pilot's control. Seconds went by, and the turbulence continued. Santa Monica College student and pilot Dennis Borik regained control of his plane, but the threat of what could have been hung in the air.

This is only one of many problems encountered in the air. While last month's crash at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport prompted questions of safety from the surrounding community, some pilots from SMC are comfortable with the current safety of the airport.

Borik, who has been flying for seven years, has not changed his idea of flying since the crash. Instead, the crash fortified his focus and attention to detail.

“It reminds everybody who is in aviation that it can happen to anybody," he said. "It reinforces your sharpness and how careful you are about everything you do."

Melissa Dammer, a business major at SMC, works at Santa Monica Flyers near the airport, where in exchange for work, she receives free flying lessons and eventually a pilot's license. She said the recent crash at the airport has not influenced her feelings about flying or the safety of the airport.

“It has not deterred me from wanting to learn how to fly,” Dammer said. “Accidents with airplanes are much less common than accidents with cars.”

She admitted to the possibility of a malfunction while flying, but is comfortable with airplane maintenance at her flight school.

Dammer said she supports the airport.

"It is a shame that the city of Santa Monica does not really appreciate the airport and they don’t really care if it’s here or not,” she said.

She also said that pilots trained at the airport learn more about safety and communication than a pilot would "in the middle of Kansas" because of the high volume of air traffic.

Borik said the airport is not beginner-friendly, citing the short runways as being difficult to land in, although he said he has never had any trouble taking off or departing.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 40 percent of fatal airplane accidents are due to loss of control, mainly stalls. This was the leading cause of general aviation accidents from 2001 to 2011.

For David Goddard, chair of Santa Monica's Airport Commission, which advises the city on the airport, and a member of Airport2Park, the organization wanting to turn the airport into a park, the airport does not follow proper safety measures.

"The airport does not have a runway safety area," Goddard said. "For a 5,000-foot runway, there should be a 1,000-foot runway safety area at each end of the runway. There are houses within 300 feet of each end of the runway. If a plane goes off the end of the runway, it's going to go into a residency."

The Sept. 29 crash at SMO that killed four people once again raised questions from interest groups and neighbors about the safety of the airport. The plane, a Cessna Citation, was landing when it veered to the right and into a hangar, sparking a fire that produced a cloud of smoke that could be seen all over the city.

Two years ago, a prop plane crashed into a home near the airport when a student pilot lost control on his way back to the airport.

Casey Weaver, a receptionist at Justice Aviation, who is also a pilot in his free time, was at work an hour before the accident happened.

“It was pretty shocking to hear that it happened, considering that I was there an hour before the crash actually happened,” Weaver said.

Even though he was close to witnessing the accident himself, the crash has not affected his perception of flying.

Weaver said he believes that landing in the airport is more complicated for jets with more than four seats. He also added that one of the more complicated aspects is the air space that has to be shared with other planes coming in and out, with LAX being so close.

“We are trained to be prepared for such things," he said. "It was an unfortunate accident."