The city of Santa Monica is moving forward with efforts to permanently destroy excess pavement at each end of the now 3,500-foot runway at Santa Monica Airport (SMO), a step designed to ensure the runway will not return to the previous 5,000 feet. Plans call for the tearing up 750 feet of extra pavement at each end and then constructing a 300-foot paved runway safety area at each end to keep the airport in line with federal standards.
While that runway safety area is intended to meet standards for a safety buffer, it is not intended to be as strong as the current structure that is capable of withstanding daily traffic. The remainder of the space will be seeded for grass. Aligning areas of the parallel taxiways will similarly be destroyed.
To be conducted in five phases, the project is to begin on June 16 and expected to continue through September 6. Each phase will involve airport closures, the city said. SMO will close altogether during two separate four-day periods: July 8 to 11 and August 5 to 8. Three other phases (June 16 to July 5, July 14 to August 2, and August 11 to September 6), will involve closures between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. from Sunday night through Thursday morning. The airport advises checking Notams concerning the closures or direct questions by email to Brian Ochoa.
“The city has always said it wants to get rid of this pavement. It’s not new at all,” said Alex Gertsen, director of airports and ground infrastructure for NBAA, adding the city wants to ensure pilots do not use that excess pavement. “It’s very unfortunate that the thinking is pilots are going to do rogue things. They want to make sure they do a really good job destroying it and then hydroseed the rest.”
As a result of a Part 13 administrative complaint filed against the airport, the city must use its own funds—at least for now—for the work rather than airport funds. The FAA has frozen the use of airport funds pending its review of the Part 13 complaint. NBAA was unsure when a final determination on that complaint will be issued, but Gertsen pointed out that the city has already shown a willingness to use its own money on the project.
In addition, the city does not believe it must conduct full environmental assessments for the work and as such is moving forward without complete evaluation. Of concern to NBAA, Gertsen said, is that it is taking the step without a wildlife assessment, since green areas might attract wildlife that could pose a safety threat to aircraft operations. “We are working on the FAA to assess that aspect,” he said.
Separately, NBAA is challenging a January 2017 settlement agreement between the city and the FAA that paved the way for the shortening of the runway and, ultimately, the possible closure of the airport in 2028. A U.S. Court of Appeals initially held that it didn’t have jurisdiction of the case, and NBAA subsequently followed with a case before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That case was briefed on jurisdictional issues last fall, and NBAA is awaiting a decision on whether the case will move forward.
“At this time there is still litigation pending questioning the validity of the settlement agreement,” said Jol Silversmith, a member of the law firm KMA Zuckert who is representing NBAA in the case. “Speaking practically, one would think the city would be well advised not to proceed with spending any money on pavement removal if there is a risk that the settlement agreement could be thrown out. The city’s obligations, that it believes to be free of, would snap back into existence and effectively, [the city] would be in gross violation of its federal obligations by no longer having a 5,000-foot runway.”