At Santa Monica, It’s About Safety

FAA says the system is the driver; Robert Trimborn says it’s about adapting the regs

VAN NUYS, CA – During a recent general aviation issues conference hosted here in April, a conversation with Robert D. Trimborn, C.M., airport manager at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, turned to his city’s ongoing dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration. Santa Monica wants to limit the heavy bizjet activity at its airport — it says it’s living on the safety edge with a 5,000-foot runway that abuts residential areas on either end. FAA’s reaction is this is an airport trying to buck the system, the aviation system. So far, FAA has won in court. Trimborn’s assertion: One G-4 overshooting his runway will result in death and destruction, and potentially the political fallout of his airport being shut down. He says FAA needs to reconsider how it evaluates airports as the technology of aircraft advances.

Santa Monica Municipal was the original home of Douglas Aircraft, and housing around the airport was encouraged for the manufacturer’s workforce. When the jet age began, Douglas moved to Long Beach — but the nearby housing remained, and with it an ongoing tussle with FAA over use of the airport. On May 16, a preliminary injunction was issued in support of FAA that prevents the city from implementing a ban on Class C&D business jets.

Trimborn, 56, now finds himself at the center of this historical tug of war with FAA. A certified flight instructor who has been flying since age 14, he was hired as airport manager at Santa Monica in 1996. He previously served in airport management at Hawthorne (CA) Municipal and Reno-Stead (NV) airports.

Following the Van Nuys meeting, Trimborn spoke with AIRPORT BUSINESS about the challenges facing his airport. Here are edited excerpts of that discussion ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: When we discussed this in Van Nuys, it was expressed that what’s going on at Santa Monica is a story that’s already been written. Your reaction?

Trimborn: The story is an unfolding story; the last chapters of the book have not been written yet. We’re going through a more intense time, trying to resolve the safety area issues and to create the safest possible operating environment for all aircraft users of the airport.
The FAA has basically left the city with no recourse other than to eliminate the aircraft that are the most incompatible with the airport, as a part of the aircraft performance program. Those are aircraft that require runway safety areas, per FAA design guidelines for airports.

We have no safety areas.

AB: Is the current impasse simply a result of aircraft technology passing by the capability of the airport?

Trimborn: It’s trying to resolve that fundamental change in the fleet mix and trying to stay lock-step within FAA guidelines for safety areas for an airport. Therein lies the rub.

If you were to build this airport in a green field somewhere, the FAA would require that I have 1,000-foot safety areas at either end of the runway or they wouldn’t give us federal funding. Now we have an airport that was built many years ago that is highly encroached because of the type of operation we had historically, which was the home of Douglas Aircraft Company that employed upwards of 40,000 during World War II. Land use planning wasn’t even on the horizon for airports, but winning a war effort was. That dynamic of having homes within 300 feet of an active runway with a 40-foot grade separation has left us with the dynamic we have today.

AB: FAA maintains that it has offered to alleviate the problem by installing an engineered materials arresting system (EMAS).

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