Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO)

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Point of Impact: Runway Reduction Negatively Impacts Santa Monica Airport Users, Tenants

Jan. 4, 2018

The 10-day closing of California's Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) brought significant ramifications to operators throughout the business aviation community, and those effects will linger now that the airport has reopened with a shorter runway and other infrastructure changes.

FBO Atlantic Aviation saw its business evaporate during the runway closure, yet the facility remained open so employees would not be without paychecks during the year-end holiday season.

"We felt it necessary that they not be penalized by the city's decision, or its timing," said Atlantic Aviation SMO General Manager Gregory Wain, who noted that while the runway was closed employees spent time performing facility maintenance.

Private pilot Mark Smith, a photojournalist and owner of a solar business, has relied on his aircraft for business transportation for more than 27 years. He spent in excess of $400 to relocate his Mooney M20K to Van Nuys Airport (VNY) during the runway closure.

"Signature (FBO) at Van Nuys was massively busy during the closure," said Smith. "Even after SMO reopened, that continued, thanks to the rollover from traffic that's now unable to land on the shorter runway."

While the shorter runway at SMO primarily impacts jet operators, Smith noted that piston aircraft operators also will be negatively affected. "It will now be more difficult for me to depart with a full load in Santa Ana conditions," he explained.

"December is normally a very busy time for us, but December 2017 was very different," said Rymann Winter, owner of SMO-based aircraft rental and flight training provider Proteus Air Services. "We repositioned most of our fleet to VNY, and I would estimate the runway closure cost us at least $25,000 in lost revenue."

Josh Olson, executive director at Angel Flight West, said that his organization was forced to cancel numerous health-transport flights during the runway closure, hindering access to necessary healthcare for those patients.

"SMO is a vital hub for not just Angel Flight West flights and our patients and volunteer pilots, but for emergency airlift, disaster relief, animal rescue and environmental conservancy flights," explained Olson. "The runway may now be open again, but the shorter length will not allow larger aircraft to access SMO – Angel Flight West's busiest airport – and that will reduce our efficacy in arranging flights for patients needing travel to/from here, especially longer flights."

Despite these challenges, operators continue to express optimism that Santa Monica Airport will remain a vital part of Southern California's aviation infrastructure.

"I've actually been encouraged by the traffic we've seen come in here since the airport reopened," Wain said. "Santa Monica is so uniquely situated that we feel confident the airport will, in time, reinvent itself to some degree. Users will figure out how to come in here with smaller aircraft."

An unprecedented settlement agreement reached in January 2017 between the FAA and the city of Santa Monica enabled the city to shorten the runway. NBAA – joined by airport businesses, tenants and users – has a lawsuit pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, challenging the settlement agreement and asserting that it is invalid because the agency failed to comply with numerous federal statutory requirements.

A court decision is expected later this year.