At Santa Monica, It’s About Safety

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


Trimborn: The EMAS proposals have been varied. There is a standard EMAS system that will stop a critical aircraft going 70 knots; then there is a non-standard system that will stop the critical aircraft in the EMAS bed going at 40 knots at the end of the runway. The first system they offered us was 135 feet within a very small safety area on the west end of the runway; there was no EMAS system for the east end.
Then they decided to go with a 250-foot EMAS bed at the west end of the runway, which came close to meeting the 70-knot design standard, within a 300-foot safety area, [and a] 600-foot declared distance safety area at the east end. FAA was to present the concept of EMAS and declared distance safety area to the public. The night of that meeting, FAA pulled back from that proposal and said we’re back to where we started — 135 feet of EMAS on the west end and no safety at the east end, with maybe a declared distance.

Kirk Shaffer, the associate administrator for airports, steps into the fray; tours the airport; and he realizes that there is a safety issue concern here, and he comes back with another proposal. That proposal was 145 feet of EMAS at either end of the runway, with a 15-foot lead-in. According to him that pretty much met the 40-knot non-standard safety area. But the other caveat was that they were built on top of platforms that extended from the runway. That created 90-degree dropoffs; small aircraft, which would not be affected by EMAS, would roll over and find themselves at the edge of a precipice. I could not support that concept; to me, you were creating a safety issue for 95 percent of the aircraft using the airport for five percent or so of the C&D aircraft. Plus it didn’t really meet the 70-knot standard.

AB: And that’s when the city decided to step in?

Trimborn: Because we couldn’t get the appropriate EMAS system that FAA standards require for the fleet mix, the city council felt the quickest way to make the airport safe was to eliminate the higher performance C&D aircraft from the airport, and then told us to continue to work with FAA to try and resolve the safety area imbalance.

AB: Is there potential for a solution using EMAS?

Trimborn: I think there is a solution if the FAA would just recognize their safety standards and apply them to this airport for the fleet of aircraft using it. That’s the bottom line: we’re trying to make the airport as safe as is practical.

An appropriately sized EMAS system that met the fleet mix requirements for this airport is something I would recommend to the city council for approval. It would have to meet the 70-knot standard.
You could build the EMAS on the existing runway platform; if you pushed out the EMAS to the edges, you’d end up with a 4500-foot runway with 300-foot safety areas at either end.

AB: Is part of your challenge the perception that Santa Monica is seen as having a history of being a problem airport?

Trimborn: I think that there’s a perception in some quarters that this is just another one of those Santa Monica things. But there’s a big difference between aircraft noise and preserving lives and property. It’s safety; it’s just that simple. The stakes are so high. It’s an issue that I can’t ignore, and that’s why I’m not backing down. The stakes are too high.

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