AIN Blog: Goodbye SMO

 - May 1, 2013, 3:35 PM
Santa Monica airport
New landing fees in effect August 1 will apply to all aircraft, including based tenants. Photo by Matt Thurber

The general aviation industry in the U.S. lost a key battle last night when the Santa Monica city council voted to impose higher landing fees, not just on transient aircraft but on all aircraft that use the airport. Starting August 1, even a Cessna 172 based at Santa Monica airport (SMO) flown by a local student or rental pilot will be assessed $10.96 for each landing. For training operations, that means a student pilot will end up paying $10.96 for every landing or touch-and-go. A typical business jet flying into SMO, say a Hawker 850XP, will pay $120.56, up from $45.54. Movie actor, airplane and helicopter owner-pilot Harrison Ford, who keeps his fleet at SMO, will be paying a lot more to fly from now on.

The fee change is intended to make up for what the city claims is a consistent budget shortfall for the airport. General aviation advocates disagree about whether that shortfall is accurate, but the city insists that it is real. Anti-airport residents complain not only about what they say is their subsidy of pilots who use the airport but even more vociferously about lead, ultrafine particulate pollution and noise from piston- and turbine-powered aircraft .

I have been flying out of SMO, renting airplanes from a local flight school. When I moved back to California in 2008, I briefly kept my airplane at SMO until I sold it. The airport’s costs were reasonable, only $90 a month for a tiedown, excellent security, no airport squeamishness about me working on my own airplane and a liberal policy allowed me to park my car at my tiedown. The airport is well maintained and a pleasure to fly into.

It’s no secret that the city wants to close the airport. Part of the city council’s resolution at the meeting on April 30 involved recommendations to “continue to assess the potential risk and benefits of closing or attempting to close all or a portion of the airport,” according to the council’s agenda. The city feels that its current agreement with the FAA runs out in 2015 and that big changes may be possible then. And the city said that all leases with airport businesses end in 2015, so expect to see none of those renewed if the city has its way.

Whether or not the city of Santa Monica is able to close the airport or at least shorten the runway by 2,000 feet until it can permanently close the airport (another proposal in the hopper), this new landing fee schedule sets a bad precedent. There are, however, other general aviation airports in the U.S. with similar fees for based aircraft such as Teterboro in northern New Jersey. Owned and operated by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, Teterboro charges all aircraft, including based tenants, fees ranging from $17 for aircraft up to 6,000-pound mtow to $6.50 per thousand pounds for 80,000-pound-plus mtow. This includes a fee for each touch-and-go. The Port Authority’s Newark Airport also charges similar fees, but that is primarily an airline airport. There are no longer any flight schools at Teterboro, which is understandable given the expense of operating there. Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y. charges landing fees to based tenants, including flight schools and for each touch-and-go, and Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich. bills based tenants, but only those with an mtow of more than 6,000 pounds.

After the council’s vote last night, I no longer have an incentive to fly out of Santa Monica. This galls me, because I know that’s exactly why the city imposed the new fees. Even though the council members claim that the fees are intended to cover the budget shortfall, we know that what will happen is that fewer pilots will use the airport. And I hate to stop flying from such a great airport, with its rich history and excellent location, just because the city that owns the airport hates it with such passion.

While the city is hoping that flight operations decline at SMO, I predict that plan is going to backfire. Owners and operators who can afford to keep flying at SMO will continue doing so and at a greater rate than before. Jet operations have grown at SMO, and because jet operators are a little more flexible when it comes to added costs, they will likely take up the slack as light airplane operations dwindle. If and until the city actually closes its airport—something the FAA has fought and will fight—the airport is doomed to become a mini-Teterboro.

As for me, I’m going to fly at a nearby airport that welcomes my business. Goodbye SMO.


I don't know, but it seems like charging $11 to land a flight-school plane is hardly a crushing blow to a private business. And, I think any movie star with his or her own jet can afford to cough up an extra $80... in fact, the previous fee of $45 seems ridiculously low. Everyone these days is paying more, including price jumps at city garages, parking tickets, and gas.

Student pilots will do 8-10 touch and goes in a single hour. A typical hour of flight training is around $250. Adding $11 PER landing would increase that hour of flight training by over $100.

In in my 45 hours of initial training I did over 300 landings - that's how you become proficient. A fee like this would increase my cost by $3000. These days I'll go up for an hour in the pattern just to practice more - because more training always makes you better pilot.

End result of this stupidity? Flight schools close (jobs lost). Less traffic by "normal guys" - so the restaurant might close too (more jobs lost!). You're right - the jet's won't care much - they're used to huge expenses. So jet traffic (which produces most of noise complaints) won't change.


Try adding up a few classes with touch and gos and see how "reasonable" it is.

It's too bad..Santa Monica will lose more than they will gain.

I run a small business in aviation if you added $11.00 to every takeoff and landing I do I would not be in business. I do not get to keep a lot of money because that is not what aviation is about. I sure move a lot of money. Every time I move money I pay multiple government agencies. I am what keeps the American Economy alive. Ground me with too many fees and the only person moving money will be the government.

Do you fly and understand how expensive something worthwhile can cost?

Do you know how much a gallon of milk costs?

Just trying to figure out if you are independently wealthy and such fees would be inconsequential to you or if you are on welfare and resent that some have saved everything they have for a just a few minutes in the sky.

Try Hawthorne airport. Small airport trying to grow, it's like a cheap and easy LAX for private planes, and less than 1 mile from LAX, I have never understood why it doesn't get a LOT more business.

I would love to move my plane from SMO to Hawthorne, but the traffic on the 405 is legendary and makes Hawthorne essentially inaccessible to anyone on the west side (Santa Monica through Hollywood).
I am amazed that a city can destroy a critical piece of the national transportation infrastructure. Why the federal government doesn't have discretion regarding such behavior is beyond me. No one can force the closure of interstates and airports are much less impacting to residents than interstates.

Hawthorne, Oxnard, and Torrance will get all the business, and probably a fair share of the fuel business as well.

You realize that during your flight training you end up making around 100 different types of landings which this will end up adding another grand to your flight training costs in a small plane. I don't know who came up with the idea that all pilots are wealthy people. To a lot of us it is just a hobby and these added fees (if they spread to other airports) are going to destroy GA as we know it.

do ALL of your business out of Santa Monica.

@ CJ Schepers.

I own and operate a flight school. If this were to happen at my home airport, I'd lose customers by the dozen. $11 per landing, average over 100 landings during private pilot training increases the cost of flight training by about 15-20%.
Reasonable? I think not!!

No more lunches at Spifire Or typhoon for me !

Sure am glad I don't live near, or fly out of, this airport.
Very, very few airports in the Midwest charge landing fees to any single-engine piston plane, certainly not to flight school students or based planes.
Wow, what an underhanded way to roundabout kill an airport and the business/jobs it supports! Very short-sighted.

I learned to fly at AMO 30 years ago before it was a plague on the community.
While charging user fees to (discourage activity) enhance revenue they consider stopping fuel sales to reduce revenue so the airport becomes less economically viable. Threatening to terminate all the leases is sure to enhance cash flow (out).
There is no denying the ultimate goal is more commercial development and low income housing. Santa Monicans for Renters Rights are drooling at the prospect.

Shame on the Santa Monica City Council! I think they took a page from the Meggs Field closure in Chicago (if you can't close an airfield by using a straightforward approach, sneak in a way to close it). Beginning Aug 1, SMO is effectively closed to light aircraft.

Not surprised by this stinking democratic state of California. This airport will be closed by the end 2015, and if the loser president had his way all GA would be history.

Obama sucks with regard to GA, but he's hardly alone, ever since I can remember (flying since 1981) the government has tried to impose user fees on aviation, Dem or Rep, and the city of SMO has been trying to turn the airport into some stupid park or project housing.

Real smart idea, like Meigs- which went from a tax-revenue generating facility to an 'open space' for people to have gang fights in and to throw trash around.

I flew into SMO last week, and it was like a ghost town compared to when I was going there in the early 80s. Sad.

I flew into SMO about a month ago and had a very good lunch at The Spitfire Grill. About a week later I received a bill from a company in Virginia called Airport Solutions for $6.27 for "Departure Fees". I also purchased about 40 gallons of fuel. Multiply that by several hundred or even several thousand per month/year and you will see even more loss of revenue for the airport and local business' . What a bunch of nitwits. I really liked that airport but I won't be going back! The politically dimwits deserve what they get. Let me know when the funeral is. Alpha, Mike, Foxtrot.

Landing fees are a small part of the bigger picture of the local resident's desire to close the airport. These people bought close to the airport at reduced cost because of the airport. They want it closed so they can reap windfall profits when their property values significantly increase with the airport gone. It is greed that is driving the politics here. The City is responding to this vocal group of greedy homeowner voters. The friends of the airport need to get involved in the political process or face closure of SMO. It is up to AOPA, NBAA, manufacturers, etc., to find candidates to run for City office, fund favorable candidates and hire political consultants to guide/steer a political effort. Writing position papers is a waste of time. This is a fight on different terms and in a tongue we have yet to speak. This is about to be Meigs. Rather than saying I will take my marbles and go elsewhere, now is the time to fight. But it takes leadership from the alphabet groups. Where are they?

Good Job with a well written article-Well taken-I hope all airports learn from the mistakes this Airport is making

Usuall stuff....the city has been and is run by a cadre of people with hostility to the airport. There is a very powerful base who house thier aircraft at SMO. Why are they so silent? W where is the protest from the " movie stars and such" who operate from SMO?

They walk the streets they take the limelight but they are oddly quiet!!!!!

As for the business aspect...Santa Monica has driven of every major employer because they understand exactly where the power base in the city is.

By driving off employers and creating a tourist Mecca...they creat a city with nothing but small power bases who really cannot challenge the councils plans.

This is what is being fought....

Now assume SMO goes.....can you imagine the power that can be derived from developing that land????? Itis huge.

Note I like SMO..I am a pilot. I saw Meadowlark go and El Toro being turned...not yet anyway to a great park twenty years after closure......

Big problem.....the public does not connect with GA.

That is how to solve this.

Usuall stuff....the city has been and is run by a cadre of people with hostility to the airport. There is a very powerful base who house thier aircraft at SMO. Why are they so silent? W where is the protest from the " movie stars and such" who operate from SMO?

They walk the streets they take the limelight but they are oddly quiet!!!!!

As for the business aspect...Santa Monica has driven of every major employer because they understand exactly where the power base in the city is.

By driving off employers and creating a tourist Mecca...they creat a city with nothing but small power bases who really cannot challenge the councils plans.

This is what is being fought....

Now assume SMO goes.....can you imagine the power that can be derived from developing that land????? Itis huge.

Note I like SMO..I am a pilot. I saw Meadowlark go and El Toro being turned...not yet anyway to a great park twenty years after closure......

Big problem.....the public does not connect with GA.

That is how to solve this.

These winers in Santa Monica will be the first people to claim all the resources when the airport is the staging area for a natural disaster, like an earthquake.

But should they succeed and turn the place into a jumbo dog park, echo garden or housing track and lose all of the jobs and tax revenue the airport generates -- they'll have all that unbearable added traffic on the surface streets and the freeways to point to for their success in shutting down an aviation institution.

I for one refuse to shop in the fatherland of Santa Monica. For me it has simply become something to drive through and pass by.

May you all choke on the fumes.

First of all it is whiners not winers.

Secondly the city will make more money from commercial business that will be built via sales tax revenue and property taxes on any new homes and buildings. Much more revenue than what they are receiving from the airport at this time. There will also be an increase in jobs because of new construction.

There is the possibility that the residents of Santa Monica would not miss you.

We pilots try very hard to be part of the solution, to be be good neighbors. We fly quietly, follow flight paths not conducive to our own safety, reduce power after takeoff, follow time restrictions... all kinds of things.

We have open houses, we always try to be friendly, lend our aircraft for all kinds of events and never turn down a child who wants to sit in an airplane or maybe even go for a ride. Many of our pilots lend their time money and airplane to travel sick, indigent patients around the west for critical medical treatments they other wise could never get to. It goes on and on.

Having been based out of SMO since 1986, I've watched the city slowly, methodically, eat into our operational footprint with dog parks we can't take our own dogs to and a soccer field we can't play on, all while we do Angel Flights, charity rides, fundraisers and all kinds of public service, always inviting the community to share in what we do and why we're passionate about it.

All while we pay the city handsomely for the privilege!

But we are NEVER given anything back. ZERO. Rather, we are attacked with libelous accusations, fake environmental reports and constant complaining. You used to hate the little airplanes. Then the jets came in and you liked the little airplanes again. Now you are trying to stomp us out once more. Admit it: you hate everything and everyone who flies. It seems to be an empirical fact.

Airports are noisy. You knew that when you moved in. Deal with it.

Santa Monica airport has been in operation since the 1920's. It is an aviation institution. In a crisis it will serve the community far more than you can imagine. Even the President of the United States relies on it. It is a strategic part of our infrastructure. (If you're waiting for an organ transplant at UCLA or Saint John's would you like it to come for SMO or LAX when seconds count?)

You need this airport whether you are smart enough to realize it or not and once an airport is gone, it is lost forever. The entire community will suffer, not just the ding-dong loud-mouths within a few blocks.

I am one pilot who is just about over being part of the solution.

You're right. A $10 landing fee is never going to slow me down. But it WILL hurt local business. It WILL reduce the most important operations at the airport, not the loudest. It WILL effect pilot proficiency and the aircraft safety right over your heads.

Congratulations on accomplishing nothing but increasing the tension and irritation. All of you complainers and the city council are short ball players.

In the meantime, don't bother asking this pilot for any more favors. I'm not leaving until there are bulldozers on the runway.

I need not repeat what others have pointed out here but consider the strategy here. The City has chosen not to take AIP funds since a 20 year commitment to operate the airport comes with that. They complain that expenses aren't being met, but it
is their action that is causing that. Where AIP funds would have been used now becomes a City expense. Safety, security upgrades, striping, pavement and more becomes a local expense.

I chair the LA County Aviation Commission managing the five County Airports. We embrace AIP funding for a simple reason; to support GA operations and minimize impacts to users in the form of unreasonable fees, gouging rent increases, and other inflation maneuvers. These dollars come from air carrier fees that support our national airport system.

I feel for the small businesses there struggling with already thin margins. Every year comes new attacks on flight schools. AB 48, fees, anti-airport advocacy, AQMD studies, and more. At some point in this mess, they will close their doors and the agenda moves forward.

I have flown Angel Flights into SMO as well. Proximal to UCLA and St. John's, what will these people do now? LAX doesn't encourage GA operations and Hawthorne and Van Nuys are further away. Added costs to those volunteers too.

The agenda will not change but aviation supporters will stand up at some point. I will be among them.

The city has finally figured out how to drive everyone away without any grief from the FAA. Just charge the fees to everyone, that way the discrimination issue goes away along with the businesses and pilots. That is what the city has wanted all along, then they can grab the land and use it as they see fit.

I t is OBVIOUS to me that Santa Monica City Hall wants to starve the airport "FINANCIALLY" and do a land grab. Part of their plan is NO AVGAS availability for for us light aircraft folks (get rid of the fuel pit where American Flyers is today), decreasing the runway length by 2000 ft and putting a propose athletic field / park there), no leases for FBO maintenance work to get your aircraft maintained or for an annual inspections, increased landing fees (even for tenant aircraft) who already pay tie down fees to the City, drive out Flight Schools in order to reduce pattern work, etc. Airport related businesses have wanted to "lease" airport property, but the City will not give them leases - aviation businesses can not plan for their future - so the airport has no long term future and nobody wants to invest at the Airport.

They say they are loosing $$$, but from what I have been told they do NOT count revenue from Tie Down Fees or from some other aviation business leased properties. This $$ goes into "some other fund". In my opinion the financial accounting is " A Shell Game" to support their agenda of saying they are loosing $$.

I live in S.M. and fly out of KSMO via a Club located there. NOT ALL people are
RICH !! Some of us are struggling financially to keep flying and charging around $12 for a Cessna 172 to land is INSANE (even if one is based there).

There appears to me that there is NO COMPROMISE about the Airport by the City or from some of the home owners who complain. From the local Mirror Newspaper, the City plans to spend some $$ on Airport improvement, BUT with much reduced use of the Airport it appears (to me) that this is a way for the City to say to the FAA - "See what we are doing to keep the Airport open." - at the same time the City is financially starving it so the FAA will cave in (like they did at Meigs Field, Chicago) and let the City take the property.

My 2 Cents,

Garey Wittich

What happens when a transient pilot does some touch-and-gos, and leaves again, without ever stopping? Do they send you a bill in the mail? If so, what happens if you just ignore the bill? Do they keep you on file and the tower refuses permission to land next time? Turn you over to a collection agency? Get in bed with DMV and put it on your license as an unpaid violation? No signed contract, with pilot agreeing to pay something - how is this enforced?

Its such a shame. We all know the city hates the airport. They want property tax revenue from high density condos. Wait till the anti-airport neighbors get a taste of the construction, density and traffic they get from closing SMO...karma.

Gulcin? Are you the girl who used to fly jumpers at Lake Elsinore when Brick and Deb ran it?

We are all dealing with fee's everywhere. tomorrow I will fly into Talladega for the race just to tie down for the race is a $100 for a single.

As to fee's for touch and goes thats just ridiculous there is no cost to the field for the landings and use of the runway and I am sorry but your taxes are already paying for the airport.

I would think that with the loss of Santa Monica it will be an increase over at Van Nuys or Hawthorne. For the actors they can afford it. what is really too bad is that Santa Monica is going to loose a valuable resource such as the airport and the training opportunity that it affords the kids in the community that want to be pilots. Just wait until they affect GA so much that there is a major shortage of airline pilots.

I must say that I am currently operating at a small federally funded airport in Georgia. These guys do a great job. This airport has a balanced budget and it brings in revenue to the local community. Carol Comer wrote an economic impact study about Airports and revenue. According to Carol if an airport is able to pay its own bills the community will receive additional funding from the people who come to the community via the airport.

Life here is very good. When I read about KSMO and airports like it I use the information to understand a trend and prepare for the future.

I do believe our government is spending itself out of a job.

We are Pilots. We have the answers. If we don't find the answers our planes will land where we do not want them to. (Seaplane rating anyone?)

We need to form a coalition and we need to have a non violent economic revolution.

This is going to be about as new an idea as was flight over one hundred years ago. People thought Americans were a little different back then too.

We were and we are. If we do this right no one will have to fire a shot and we will invent a way to win back not just airports but an entire country.

If we can reign in a government as large as this one we will be worthy of a non violent revolution. Americans are notorious for achieving what many believe to be impossible.

We must all work to build our own businesses and our own airports and remove the government that is reallocating our resources. We must govern ourselves and our own funds. We must join our resources together with self governance. Landing fees as those proposed at KSMO will make us owning our own property as a group more attractive. This might be the needed motivation to get the most capable people in our society to come up with a model that the rest of our society can follow.

We operate non profit airports. The government says they have been doing this for years so proving that our airports are not turning a profit should be a simple task. Having operated a small aviation business I can figure out more ways to reinvest any "profit" the company will ever make. Of course some day we may have to sell the planes we purchased and the government will get the money from us eventually. The idea is to change the people in power before they take everything from us and change the system before they take everything we have earned. Put welfare recipients back to work and restore their self esteem. If the government decides to remove our ability to reinvest in our businesses and our own private airstrips then things are going to get a bit more messy but right now there is a way to make all this work.

Once about 200 and something years ago people joined together to fight corrupt government attempting to remove finance and resources from the people that government was unable to govern. (The English were an ocean away when an ocean away meant more than it does today.)


We buy our own land. We work together with ingenuity to remove our money from the system that takes tax payers money and redistributes that money without talking to the people who gave them the money in the first place.

This is not going to be easy. Your pilot ratings were not easy either. Running a business is not easy. Quietly taking back a country from corrupt politicians without violence has never been done before. If this was easy everyone would do it. If we make it attainable everyone will do it.

Pilots are ingenious. If anyone can figure out the plan for allocating our resources toward a more successful America it is the people smart, unafraid and committed enough to obtain Pilot Ratings.

Stop fighting with our government that is on a spending spree beyond anything you or I could imagine. They govern me out of business on the one hand and tax me out of business on the other. I own airplanes but when I travel, I sleep in my car or my cockpit. I am not rich. I know what it is to be solidly broke and am very comfortable being uncomfortable in order to have more money to put into my airplanes. Buy a smaller house. Buy more airplanes. Open a small business on a private airport.

The government will actually make more from sales taxes on the things that you do with your airplanes and they will have more money. We know how efficiently they will spend it. KSMO is an example. Did I read correctly that people have been flying out of this airport since 1924?

My budget is balanced. How come I am being taxed, governed and controlled by people who do not have a balanced budget?

The illusion that politicians are building the infrastructure of our country while they are just transferring resources needs to be exposed. The best way to do this is to compete with the government and do a better job. Of course those governing have minimal oversight while pilots are held accountable for everything we do. A level playing field? Not to worry it feels better to win if you started out from behind and hold yourself to a higher standard than those you are competing with.

I did start out my career in aviation as a parachute packer. Built my company from the ground up-literally.

Airports can quietly be moved back into the hands of the people. We will have to work together.

"If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately." - Benjamin Franklin

Not so long ago I thought $100.00 was a lot of money. I am going to be reinvesting money for the future so that when the locals take away the airport my business can continue to operate on my own property.

This is about economic viability and those in power deciding what is best for the rest of us. I look the fitness and the fiscal responsibility and wonder why anyone would allow themselves to be governed by people in worse shape than we are. These people do not fly. So much for a jury of our peers. Of course for most of us we would never be on the jury or involved in the land grab for our airports. we are out flying our airplanes...

I took way to long to write this. I should have been flying (bad weather kept me down.)


I had my business based at Santa Monica Airport in the late 1990's. I operated one medium sized business jet and leased a hangar from Supermarine (before they were bought by Atlantic). Typically, my aircraft was "on the road" and I only averaged 3-4 landings per calendar month at SMO. My chief pilot and primary Captain for the aircraft had instructed and flown from SMO for 10 years prior and he and I were very sensitive to the noise abatement procedures and were "good neighbors" in both our arrival and departure procedures with steeper than usual approaches/departures, reduced power settings and use of brakes and spoilers vs. thrust reversers. However, because we were the only based jet charter operator at the field at the time you would think that we were operating a fleet of Stage II heavy jets and flipping off the city. This while the fractional operators Net Jet's, Flex Jet's and Flight Options were conducting dozens of operations on a daily basis at the time. As business owner I was pursued legally and hassled constantly by the city through Bob Trimborn, the airport manager and spineless puppet, to take my business elsewhere. No level of compliance, accommodation or olive branch was enough. The city refused to issue me a Commercial Operating Permit even though having an air taxi operator as a tenant was written in the master lease between the City and Supermarine. When the general manager of Supermarine pressed the city manager's office for the commercial operating permit the city manager then implemented a new policy to require a 6 month environmental impact study for any air taxi operators applying for a Commercial Operating Permit. For a small business owner this was a near impossible task. I moved my base of operations (FAA Air Carrier Certificate) to Van Nuys Airport and finished out the term of my leased hangar at SMO for the next few months. The city then accused me of being in violation of operating without a Commercial Operating Permit because I still had my hangar and my aircraft was still occasionally dropping off passengers as a transient aircraft. One day while (literally) packing up my hangar to move out I was called by Supermarine to meet someone in the main executive terminal and was served a notice to appear in court from a clerk from the city manager's office. He had a Santa Monica Police pad of "Notice to Appear" forms but didn't know how to fill them out because as he said "I've never done this before. I have no idea why they have me doing this." I drove to the south side of the airport and confronted the airport manager Bob Trimborn with the written notice. I said something like "what the hell is wrong with you? I moved my operation and you know I am moving out of my hangar!" He feigned total ignorance, an easy role for him, and took the notice to appear and said he would take care of it with a call to the city manager's office. I called him later in the day and he confirmed that it was a non-issue and that the city manager had not known I was in the process of vacating. I should have gotten it in writing of course. Six months later during a routine traffic stop I discovered there was a bench warrant out for me in Santa Monica for "failure to appear". More than ten years later it's funny to me that my friend who was the General Manager at Supermarine at the time and who witnessed this "witch hunt" (as he called it) still calls me the "Outlaw Josey Wales" of jet charter. But let there be no doubt that Santa Monica Airport is a snake pit of self-serving, spineless, back-stabbing, anti-business scumbag bureaucrats like Bob Trimborn and company. Someday they'll erect a commemorative plaque for SMO in a dog park where the runway used to be and they'll shake hands and pat each other on the back.

For anyone doing business at SMO, come on over to Ventura County. We've got three GA airports and would love to have you.