Inside the Fence

Approaching the Santa Monica airport by car, the map says it’s very near — but where? Look up ...

Driving around the perimeter of the bluff that is Santa Monica Municipal, it’s the airport edges that stand out. They drop off in a hurry, to houses just a football field away.

In another era, those houses were home to the workforce of Douglas Aircraft Company. Back then, Douglas was the airport. It’s not unlike textile towns of the Southeast, with the noted difference that the affluence of LA is all around this airport.

Bob Trimborn (see story here) has been the airport manager at Santa Monica since 1996, following management stops at Hawthorne and Reno-Stead. He’s lived and breathed general aviation since learning to fly at age 14. He thinks he has a GA perspective.

But he also has an airport manager’s responsibility, he says, and the current brouhaha between his community and FAA is serious. A fear is that industry is just dismissing the situation of Santa Monica as a city that is just getting in the way of business as usual.

Speaking with him at AAAE’s General Aviation Issues Conference in Van Nuys, one thing rang through: Bob has made this his cause — his age, experience, and a life with GA give him credibility; and he is not making this a fight the city is fighting. He’s fighting it as an airport manager who sees it as the right thing to do. He recognizes, and it’s what hit me, that making this an airport manager’s fight raises the potential that people might actually listen to the airport’s (and city’s) side of the story.

It’s a tough thing to accomplish, particularly when it’s the FAA leading the charge against you — fighting for GA rights. When that White Knight charges, industry follows behind.

As it should ... to a point. Bob Trimborn thinks he’s living one of those points. He’s trying to bring his airport into compliance with FAA’s own design guidelines, like being able to have the comfort of safety areas.

From NATA: “SMO has a long-standing history of finding creative ways to restrict operations at the airport. However, masking the airport’s motives as a safety initiative is immoral and wrong.”

NBAA: “NBAA strongly agrees with the FAA that Santa Monica has neither the authority nor a justification to adopt the ban.”

AOPA: “This isn’t the end of the issue, but the court and the FAA are sending a very clear message to Santa Monica and other airports that arbitrary restrictions to federally funded airports will not be tolerated.”
Trimborn thinks the time has come for FAA and industry to rethink what the change in the aircraft mix can mean to a restricted facility like Santa Monica. To make SMO safe within FAA’s written guidelines, he needs safety areas. That will limit some large bizjet activity, but 95 percent of his current users will just be safer.

Same too for his neighbors who are just a Hail Mary pass away.

Thanks for reading.