Politics and Safety—Santa Monica

October 9, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

SSGN Poster_BLUE_smallWhat follows is my op-ed piece scheduled to appear in the Santa Monica Mirror on Friday, October 11. All pilots should be interested when politics start to trump safety and operational considerations. We understand the problems at SMO caused by decades of poor zoning—there are strong viewpoints on both sides. There are also legal considerations and binding contracts. That is a battle for AOPA. The Air Safety Institute will stick to safety by presenting a safety seminar in Santa Monica at the end of the month for area pilots:

“While an aircraft accident that results in a loss of life is an obvious tragedy, it should never become an opportunity to score political points with wild speculation. But that quickly became the case in Santa Monica last week.

Led by Airport Commission Chairman David Goddard, one has to question the motives and sense of decency of those who are so anxious to close Santa Monica Airport that they will rush out in front of television cameras even as the wreckage is still smoldering.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Goddard estimated that the crash site was about 150 feet from residences. Had the plane not hit the hangar, it could have gone up an embankment and gotten over a wall before slamming into homes, he said.”

A key word there is “estimated” and dealing in hypotheticals of what could have happened is absurd before the NTSB firmly concludes probable cause. Goddard is perhaps the only airport commissioner in the nation intent on closing his own airport with innuendo.

What is factual is that the Sept. 29 aircraft accident was entirely contained on the airport, causing no harm to those living nearby. The airport is separated from homes by trees, an uphill embankment, a hefty brick wall, and a road.

The exaggerations did not stop with Goddard. Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Bonin was quoted as calling for the airport to close, saying that “There have been more than 80 crashes related to this airport since 1982.”

Records show otherwise. Contrary to L.A. Councilman Bonin’s claims, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data shows there have been 38 accidents since 1982, 25 of them contained on the field itself. And, there has never been an off-airport fatality associated with aviation activities in recorded history.

emas_runwayWhat is even more disturbing than airport and city officials taking advantage of this accident to further their political agenda, is their refusal of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) offer to install aircraft arresting material. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) called for the FAA to install an engineered material arresting system, or EMAS. It is collapsible material placed at the end of runways that slow or stop aircraft in an emergency. The FAA offered to install EMAS at Santa Monica, numerous times. The city has rejected all such offers. If they are truly concerned with safety, why not?

Incidentally, Rep. Waxman is again calling for more safeguards. We think it’s time the city accepts the FAA’s offer.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is keenly aware of the concerns that involve airports and communities. We work with airport communities on a daily basis and we understand full well the concerns of those who live near airports. But other cities and residents have found workable solutions that allow their airports to continue to thrive and contribute to the community’s well-being. So can Santa Monica.”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • http://flyingdonald.blogspot.com Flying Donald

    Well put, Bruce. Those who oppose SMO cannot possibly imagine how isolated their community might become sans airport in the decades ahead. LA isn’t exactly well known for its efficient ground transportation, so proximity to airports is likely to become increasingly important in the future.