Posted by Peggy Clifford on Saturday, September 3, 2011
The following information item was sent to the Mayor and City Council on September 2, 2011, by Martin Pastucha, City Public Works Director
Subject: City Action Taken Following the August 29, 2011 Airplane Crash from Santa Monica Airport
This report provides the community with information on action that the City is taking in the aftermath of the near-tragic August 29, 2011 aircraft accident by a student pilot into the residential neighborhood adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport (SMO). In response to concerns of residents in the immediate area and the community at-large, staff is aggressively pursuing multiple approaches in an attempt to reduce the impact of flight schools on the community.
On August 29, 2011, a small Cessna 172 aircraft attempting to land at Santa Monica Airport crashed immediately adjacent to a house in the residential neighborhood two blocks west of the Airport. Staff and the community are grateful that the pilot sustained only moderate injuries as a result of the accident. The pilot was a student who had rented a plane from one of the flight schools at SMO. This terrible near-tragic plane crash has generated many inquires about increased regulation of flight schools at SMO.
The public has requested that the City review flight school activity at SMO. This is the first known accident involving a student pilot directly associated with one of the Airport’s flight schools (see PLANE CRASHES story below). Staff is reviewing flight school operations since they do constitute a significant amount of aircraft operations at SMO. Staff is also pursuing multiple approaches involving discussion with the FAA, lease analysis, and discussions with the flight schools on frequency of and time of operations.
Following the accident, painters who were working on the house successfully extricated the student pilot who was on a solo cross country flight when he returned to the Airport for landing. The community is grateful to these “good Samaritans” for their heroic effort.
The pilot sustained injuries and two of the painters sustained minor injuries caused by flying debris from the accident. No one was in the house at the time of the accident.
Santa Monica Fire and Police responded to the scene and assisted with site stabilization and control. Fire Department personnel foamed down the ground to prevent any possible aircraft fuel ignition, and treated and transported the injured. Public Works/Airport staff responded to deal with operational questions, City Manager’s Office staff responded, and Building and Safety staff inspected the damage to the home.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) staff, and a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator responded to the scene to take charge of the accident investigation. During the course of the NTSB investigation, staff facilitated site access and provided assistance to the investigator as requested. Staff responded to media requests as did the NTSB investigator. We anticipate that a preliminary report on the accident will be issued by the NTSB next week.
Since the accident, Staff has developed multiple approaches to attempt to reduce the impact of the flight schools on the community. First, City staff will travel to Washington D.C. to meet with FAA officials to discuss flight school operations and safety at SMO.
Flight schools are a prescribed activity under the 1984 agreement. The City alone cannot restrict flight school operations outside of the Santa Monica Municipal Code, Federal Air Regulations or provisions of their respective lease agreements. Second, City staff has begun a review of flight school leases to ascertain what flexibility we have in relation to their operations. Third, City staff will meet with flight school operators to discuss strategies to lessen their impact on the community.
The City is very concerned about safety at the Airport and is currently engaged in a visioning effort for its future. Staff is preparing for the upcoming October 4 special Council meeting where staff and consultants will review preliminary research findings on airport best practices, global trends, compatible land use development and economic impacts of the facility. This research will inform the proposed public process on the future of the Santa Monica Airport. A number of community workshops will take place between this fall and next April. Community input will assist in development of a range of potential Airport scenarios that the Council and community may want staff to explore for feasibility, and cost/benefit analysis. The City will then undertake a final planning process to present options for Council consideration and a more focused planning phase, well in advance of the impending end date of the 1984 Settlement Agreement with the FAA in mid-2015. Any decisions about the future of the Airport will eventually be made within the context of a complex jurisdictional and legal environment. However, the expiration of the 1984 Agreement presents opportunities for the City to determine what is in the best interests of the City and its citizens.
The City takes very seriously the implications of the recent near-tragic airplane crash from Santa Monica Airport. Staff will provide periodic updates on each of the strategies undertaken.
Prepared By: Martin Pastucha, Public Works Director, Kathryn Vernez, Assistant to the City Manager