Harrison Ford crash heightens Santa Monica Airport safety debate

The plane crash that injured Harrison Ford is sure to revive debate about the safety at Santa Monica Airport.

For years, nearby residents have tried to close the airport, saying it’s unsafe given its proximity to homes. But airport users and federal aviation officials have rejected those arguments and said the airport operates safely.

Q: What do we know about the airport’s safety record?

There have been at least 11 crashes involving planes coming and going from Santa Monica 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. The airport had about 7,300 takeoffs and landings in August, the most recent month for which data was available.

In 2013, four people died in a fiery wreck at the airport when the twin-engine Cessna Citation they were in touched down on the runway, then veered hard right and smashed into an airport hangar, bursting into flames and collapsing the building.


Q: What are the battle lines of the fight?

Santa Monica officials have talked about closing all or part of the airport after July 2015.

The Federal Aviation Administration has maintained the city must keep the airport open. Some residents want the space turned into a park. Last November, voters rejected a ballot measure by airport backers to halve efforts to close the facility.

But the battle over the airport’s future has been going on for decades.

Q: Isn’t the airport known as a celebrity enclave?

Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and casino mogul Steve Wynn have been among the celebrities and business tycoons who have kept planes there. In 2013, Ford, other airport tenants and national aviation groups filed a federal complaint challenging any move to close it.

Q: What do airport supporters say?

Critics note safety, pollution and noise issues. But backers say the airport contributes $250 million annually to the local economy, offers educational opportunities for children and provides a base for hundreds of medical-related flights a year.

The concerns about noise and pollution, speakers said, will fade due to the increasing use of unleaded aviation gas and cleaner, quieter aircraft engines.

Q: What is the history of the site?

Santa Monica Airport, established in 1917, is described on a city website as the oldest continuously operating airport in Los Angeles County. After Santa Monica acquired the original 170 acres in 1926, the property became the home of Douglas Aircraft Co., whose DC-3 would introduce average Americans to commercial air travel in the 1930s. At its peak, the company had 44,000 employees, and both Los Angeles and Santa Monica encouraged the building of housing right up to the airport’s perimeter.

Before the United States entered World War II, the federal government leased most of the airport from the city to provide security for Douglas, a major defense contractor. After the war, the federal government returned the improved and expanded property to the city under the “instrument of transfer.”

For more on Harrison Ford’s crash, read here.