Engine emissions draw ire from airport neighbors

 - September 13, 2006, 5:42 AM
An onerous legislative proposal to mandate emissions monitoring at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) in Southern California was rejected by the state senate. California Assembly Bill 2501 would have required the airport to record the time that turbine engines run during ground operations at Santa Monica Airport so that exhaust emissions could be measured. The proposal stemmed from a local citizen group called CRAAP, which stands for Concerned Residents Against Air Pollution.

CRAAP was able to get California state assemblyman Ted Lieu (D) to propose the bill, which was passed by the California assembly but rejected recently by the State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. Both NBAA and the National Air Transportation Association worried that the bill, if passed, could set a dangerous precedent for other airports. “The new legislation could also establish a precedent for all publicly owned and public-use airports in California to take similar actions,” NATA wrote to its members. NBAA stated that “the bill duplicated similar studies already under way, singled out SMO and could have limited access to SMO.”

CRAAP’s effort developed after an airport commission meeting at which nearby residents who live downwind of SMO’s runway complained about jet fumes. The proposal to measure turbine engine run time at SMO for one year beginning on January 1 would have cost the airport $150,000, according to NBAA. “We think it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” said Kris Thabit, president of American Airports, which operates the airport and owns FBO Supermarine Aviation.

Compared with the tremendous amount of pollution generated by automobile and truck traffic in the Los Angeles area, he added, “What happens at the airport is negligible.” In any case, he asked, “So what if you track emissions and are able to measure them? Does the South Coast Air Quality Management District have a standard? What is the goal? What are you going to do with this information?”

In its original form, Bill 2501 would have required measuring turbine engine run time at all airports in Southern California, according to Thabit. He pointed out that if the bill were truly aimed at air pollution, it would not target only aviation;
it would also measure emissions at marinas and auto racetracks.

The CRAAP move appears to be another in the many attacks on SMO by nearby residents who have long sought restrictions against the airport and negotiated a significant noise settlement in 1984. Escalating fines for noise violations and pilot education have made the noise program very effective, and violations are now a small percentage of the 16,000 to 18,000 jet operations per year at SMO, according to Thabit. “The noise program hasn’t been bad,” he said, “and it’s good for the community.”

But local residents didn’t achieve their goals with the noise settlement, and they have been busy planning other ways to try to restrict operations at SMO, including a proposed conformance program that would allow the airport to accept only certain types of airplane based on approach speeds and wingspan, according to Thabit. The City of Santa Monica is pushing for a displaced threshold, which would also limit operations. “It hasn’t proceeded,” Thabit said. “The airport is just too valuable for the Los Angeles Basin.”

While the SMO legislation is dead, pollution problems at airports are a live issue. At nearby Los Angeles International Airport, for example, Landmark Aviation’s Honeywell engine overhaul facility is required by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to track emissions generated by engine test cells.

Emissions are not actually measured, but they are calculated based on engine run time at various power settings, using a Honeywell formula that determines levels for five different polluting substances produced. Landmark measures test cell emissions because it is not allowed to exceed an emissions limit that in effect permits running just one TPE331 and one TFE731 per day. To some observers this makes little sense given the enormous amount of emissions generated by all the turbine traffic taking off, landing and taxiing at LAX every day.

At Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, an emissions study is being conducted by Environ for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. This study is far more rigorous than the SMO proposal and will measure actual emissions generated not only by aircraft but also by background sources such as cars and trucks. The study’s goals are “to assess long-term ambient concentrations of selected air toxins in the immediate vicinity of the airport and the associated risks to human health,” and “determine whether contributions from airport operations can be discerned from the contributions of other background sources.”

Environ (www.environcorp.com/projects) has installed monitoring and sampling equipment at TEB, and the systems will operate all this year. According to Environ, the TEB program is the “first long-term study of air quality in the vicinity of an airport ever performed.”