Santa Monica to consider aggressive plan to shrink airport operations

An aggressive plan to shut down all or part of embattled Santa Monica Airport after July 2015 is set to go before the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday evening.

If approved, the city would set in motion a so-called starvation strategy to dramatically scale back aircraft operations, cut the 5,000-foot runway almost in half and eliminate aviation-related services such as fuel sales and flight schools.

Recommended by the city's airport commission, the plan also calls for the city to rezone airport land to non-aviation uses and continue its effort to gain control of the 227-acre facility, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and subject to various federal agreements.

A large turnout of airport opponents and supporters is expected at the council meeting.

Opponents claim the airport should be closed because it contributes to air pollution in surrounding neighborhoods and is unsafe due to roughly 90 accidents since 1982. Many have called for a park to be built on the site.

Supporters say the airport is an important part of the county's transportation system and that the city is bound by federal agreements to keep it open.

Based on accident records, they say the airport is safer than other similar facilities in the region and that the opponents' crash statistics are exaggerated by counting accidents that occurred far from the airport.

Opponents unveiled the starvation strategy last month after a federal judge dismissed a city lawsuit that sought to nullify a 1948 federal agreement designed to keep the airport open unless the U.S. government approved of a change in land use.

In addition, the judge rejected an allegation by the city that it only had to operate the airport until 2015 under a 1984 court settlement with the federal government related to aircraft noise.

The court, however, left the door open for further litigation on airport issues.

FAA officials declined to comment on the airport commission's recommendations to the city council. The agency, however, reiterated its longstanding position that the city has an obligation under various federal agreements to operate the airport.

So far, the FAA has fought off every legal attempt by the city to ban certain jets and gain control of the facility.

If the starvation strategy is put into effect, officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., which has almost 400,000 members, said the group would try to stop any further efforts to close the airport.

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dan.weikel@latimes.com  

Twitter: @LADeadline16

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