Tragic Flight School Crash Reminder of Danger Posed by Airport

September 16, 2022

Open letter to the Santa Monica City Council and city officials:

The tragic deaths of a trainee pilot and an instructor at Santa Monica Airport on September 8 are a salutary reminder of the danger we all live with due to the continued operation of the airport before its planned closure in 2029 ("Two Killed in Plane Crash at Santa Monica Airport," September 9, 2022).

We grieve for the two lives lost in this accident, as well as for those in previous accidents at, or connected with, this airport. We're also keenly aware of the danger presented to our health, our homes, and our lives by this airport, whether due to accidents or toxic emissions.

Nestled among houses, apartments, schools, preschools, play fields, parks, and a large business park, one thing this airport should absolutely not be used for is flying lessons.

Among the more than 100 accidents since 1982 connected with Santa Monica Airport (SMO), 28 have involved student pilots (two in 1982, two in 1984, 1985, 1986, three in 1987, four in 1989, three in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2008, two in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2021, and now 2022).

Student pilots from SMO have done the following:

  • lost control on the 3rd of 3 landings at SMO due to excessive approach speed;
  • misread the airport windsocks and landed in the wrong direction (with a tail wind, rather than into the wind);
  • overran the runway;
  • not noticed that the plane's engine had overheated, resulting in vapor lock and partial loss of power;
  • glided into SMO with the landing gear retracted after loss of power in both engines, running out of fuel due to the instructor’s miscalculations;
  • struck electrical wires and a traffic light pole before ending up on Rose Avenue in Venice due to an engine malfunction while practicing touch-and-go landings at SMO;
  • crashed into a house at 21st and Navy;
  • crashed into the carport of an apartment building on 4th St. near Bay Street (3 fatalities);
  • performed a solo flight, unauthorized by the flight instructor, resulting in an emergency landing;
  • crashed into the ocean off Malibu (the instructor died as a result);
  • flown erratically 10 to 50 feet above the beach in Malibu, then cleared an apartment complex by about 10 feet before crashing into a hillside; and
  • collided with another aircraft midair.

It seems that more than 50 percent of operations at the airport are training related, so it’s not surprising: there are more than 180 landings and take-offs a day at SMO, the vast majority of them by piston engine planes which, in addition to the dangers of crashes, use “leaded” aviation fuel (Avgas), creating a daily onslaught of toxic emissions.

According to the EPA, piston aircraft operating on leaded fuel are the largest remaining source of lead emissions into the air in the U.S., as every gallon of Avgas contains 2 grams of lead. As of a few years ago, aircraft purchasing leaded Avgas at SMO were emitting about 1,000 pounds of lead per year.

Then there is noise pollution, not just from piston engine planes but also from more than 600 monthly landings and take-offs by helicopters, turbo-props, and luxury corporate jets. The jets use kerosene-based Jet A fuel, which adds to the air pollution with black carbon and ultra-fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream.

This all adds up to more than 5,500 landings and takeoffs per month, or an average of about 13 per hour between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

According to the Annual Noise Report, there were 67,986 landings and takeoffs at Santa Monica Airport in 2021.

In conclusion, the City of Santa Monica should 1) stop leasing its storage tanks to companies that sell aviation fuel at SMO, and 2) explore ways to discourage the use of the airport for training.

Just as important, after Santa Monica voters overwhelmingly approved Measure LC in 2014, it should spell out its proposals for turning the airport into a park, to give local residents confidence that there is an end in sight to the continued danger and environmental damage done by Santa Monica Airport.


Brian Bland, Dr. Charles Blum, Neil Carrey, Jane Dempsey, Caroline Denyer, Peter Donald, Charles R. Donaldson, John Fairweather, Ofer Grossman, Ping Ho, Zina Josephs, Kathy Knight, Nikki Kolhoff, Cathy Larson, Jeanne Laurie, Colin Maduzia, Ellen Mark, Alex Novakovich, John Reynolds, Lloyd Saunders, Gavin Scott and Clare Thomas

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