Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) sent a letter to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday calling for the agency to address safety conditions at Santa Monica Airport.
The lawmaker called safety measures at the airport “inadequate” following Sunday’s crash that killed four people after a plane touched down and then veered right into a hangar, where it burst into flames. The Los Angeles County coroner is expected to release the victims’ identities after they’re matched with dental records.
Residents near the airport and community activists say the crash of the twin-engine Cessna Citation 525A reflects some of their worst fears because the plane came to rest about 150 feet from homes near the northwest section of the airfield.
“The fatal crash should be a wakeup call,” Waxman wrote. “You should thoroughly review the conditions at the airport, implement safeguards to protect the community, pilots, and passengers, and make the safety of the Santa Monica airport an urgent priority.”
There have been at least 11 crashes involving planes coming and going from Santa Monica Airport since 1989, according to federal records. Six were confined to airport grounds, two struck homes, two came down in the ocean and one crashed on a golf course.
Pilots and passengers died or were hurt in some of the accidents, but no residents were killed or injured on the ground.
But that hasn’t swayed airport critics.
"It's a warning of what could really happen," said John Fairweather, founder of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic. "Obviously we are saddened by those who lost their lives in that plane. Our concern is what would have happened if it hit houses and the fire spread beyond the hangar."
But the Federal Aviation Administration asserts that Santa Monica must operate the airport in perpetuity under a 1948 transfer agreement reached when the facility was returned to the city after World War II. Agency officials have vowed to protect the interests of pilots and aviation-related businesses.
The fate of the airport has been debated for decades. When jets began operating at Santa Monica in the 1960s, the city imposed restrictions and, at one point, a total jet ban, which aviation advocates successfully challenged in court in the 1970s.
The Federal Aviation Administration later struck down the ban because it discriminated against aircraft types, a decision that was upheld by a federal appeals court.
The closure of Santa Monica has long been opposed by pilots, airport-related businesses and national aviation organizations, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. They caution that the cause of the crash has not been determined and it was unlikely the jet could have entered a nearby neighborhood because of a protective berm, landscaping and a wall.
"Let's find out what happened first before we speculate," said Bill Dunn, the association's vice president of airport advocacy. "The reality is that accidents occur, and the reality is that more people have been killed on bike paths and in fatal car accidents in Santa Monica than in airplanes."
What caused the plane to swerve right and crash may not be known for some time. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board told The Times on Tuesday that the crash probe was on hold until the government shutdown ends.
Robert Chandler, a veteran Santa Monica pilot whose vintage 1953 Cessna may have been damaged by the crash, said the airport has a good safety record and is a vital part of the region's transportation system.
"To close it would be the equivalent of closing 10 miles of the Santa Monica Freeway," Chandler said. "It's disingenuous to move next to an airport and then complain about it."
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