FAA ends controversial Santa Monica flight path test

The federal government Tuesday ended its 180-day test of a controversial departure route from Santa Monica Municipal Airport that resulted in thousands of noise complaints from densely populated neighborhoods along the flight path.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s experiment, which began Dec. 10, directed departing propeller planes to turn right over the neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Ocean Park when flying under instrument flight rules, such as during foggy or cloudy weather.

FAA officials and airport officials say they will analyze the noise complaints, potential benefits and alternative flight paths to determine whether the experimental departure route should be made permanent. FAA officials plan to release a final report in August.

“If we move toward making the procedure permanent, we will do a thorough environmental analysis that will include public involvement,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. “This process will take at least a year to complete.”

Though the FAA claims the test route averaged eight planes a day, residents say the experiment resulted in a steady stream of noisy propeller aircraft over their neighborhoods, including those that were not flying under instrument flight plans.

Their complaints started small in December with nine. By the end of April, two neighborhood associations had gotten involved and the number mushroomed to 3,747. Airport officials say there were at least 3,000 in May, a number that could grow further by June 15, the official end of the complaint period.

“I hope they don’t make this a permanent departure route. It’s not a good idea,” said Joanne Segal, who lives in Sunset Park with her husband and three children. “I hope they take the residents’ concerns and objections into their decision. There are too many schools and too many residents in the flight path.”

According to the FAA, the test has significantly reduced delays for private and commercial aircraft by eliminating the need for air traffic controllers to coordinate takeoffs from Santa Monica and nearby Los Angeles International Airport to avoid collisions.

Officials also said the route maintained the required separation of three miles between departing aircraft from LAX and Santa Monica.