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Santa Monica Loses Jet Ban Case  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

January 24, 2011 -- Santa Monica's ordinance banning jets at the city's airport was shot down by the United States Court of Appeals Friday.

The District of Columbia court upheld an earlier decision based on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) argument that jets can take off and land safely at Santa Monica Airport (SMO), and that banning them violates the terms of a 1984 contract between the FAA and the city.

"We continue to value residents' safety over the somewhat different interests of the federal bureaucracy, and our attorneys and consultants made the strongest possible case to the court,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown told The Lookout Sunday.

“We must now move forward toward 2015 even more mindful of the FAA's power and the system's tendency to favor federal agencies," said McKeown, who is known for bringing airport neighbors' concerns before the city council..

The City now has to choose whether to drop its case, ask the court to reconsider its ruling or appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

The City enacted the 2008 ban in response to fears of airport neighbors that a jet crash was an accident waiting to happen.

The airport is located on a plateau and supporters of the city ordinance argued that the runway is too short to stop a runaway jet – with approach speeds as high as 191 m.p.h. - from plowing into the houses that surround it.

The FAA lost no time securing an injunction to stop the ordinance from taking effect until its fight with the City had made its way through the courts.

Friday's judges agreed with the FAA's safety arguments.

The jets, the aviation agency said, are less likely to overrun or undershoot the runway than less powerful craft because they “are more technically sophisticated, (and) have more highly trained pilots,” and an FAA investigator called jet overruns “incredibly rare.”

Moreover, Rick Marinelli, the manager of the FAA Airport Engineering Division, testified that “an aircraft overrunning the end of SMO’s runway would not reach the homes located beyond the runway...(but would) impact the ground on the SMO property, about twenty feet short of the airport’s property line.”

The City has attacked Marinelli's calculations and “(SMO Manager Bob) Trimborn testified that it was possible for an overrunning aircraft to reach the surrounding neighborhoods,” court documents stated.

The FAA also asserted that adding “a bed of jet-blast resistant cellular cement blocks” would make the airport just as safe “without implementing a total ban and without affecting the utility of the runway,” another claim some residents and city officials challenge.

Legal hassles with the FAA over the city's airport are nothing new.

In 1981, the City tried to have the airport shut down altogether. A 1984 agreement between the FAA and the city kept it open until 2015, when the issue will be revisited.

In the meantime, judges said Friday, that agreement is the basis for their ruling.

The agreement, they wrote, mandates that the city “make SMO available for use on 'fair and reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination, to all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical uses,'” and, they ruled, jets are not dangerous enough to exclude from that agreement.


"We continue to value residents' safety over the somewhat different interests of the federal bureaucracy." Kevin McKeown

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