No Fly Zone

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Not Approved

Please stop flying below mandatory FAA regulations over Venice. Actually, stop flying over Venice period.

That was a comment posted on one of the pages of the blog. I don’t approve comments if they are from an anonymous account, I think that’s a bad policy for a web presence unless there’s some sort of physical danger to the poster revealing their identity (whistleblowers, people under oppressive regimes). I wrote to the email given (email addresses do not need capitalization) and it bounced back. So it’s someone spoofing an identity. They misspelled “principal,” which flatters all sorts of prejudices about the Los Angeles Unified School District (which does not actually seem to use the identified domain).

So, basically, we have a drive-by authored by a coward. That’s an excellent time for a civics lesson.

To get some of the technicalities out of the way:

I almost never fly over Venice. Almost all of my flights are straight out from runway two-one toward the beach with my maximum-power climb directly over the Penman Golf Course, apparently owned by the City of Los Angeles (although it is in the borders of Venice) and then a little wiggle and I am north of Dewey Street, the northern border of Venice. So I am flying over Santa Monica.

When I am flying over Venice it means that I am flying to the south (Long Beach, Irvine, San Diego) or returning from one of those trips. In those cases I am at 2,500 feet or 3,500 feet. The jets coming in to land at LAX are allowed to be as low as 2,700 feet (although they are usually kept at 4,000 feet). (A jet like a 737 at one mile away is 90 decibels (twice as loud as your vacuum cleaner), a lot louder than my two little diesel engines (similar to car engines) half a mile over your home.)

What about the FAA regulations? 91.119 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) dictates minimum safe altitudes (note that they are concerned for safety of the aircraft and other people, it’s not about noise). It says that I should always fly high enough to allow a safe emergency landing if I lose an engine (91.119a). Since I now have two engines I consider that to be five hundred feet or so above the ground. I can fly the pattern at Santa Monica on a single engine. Over a congested area (like Venice) I am meant to be a thousand feet above the highest obstacle (91.119b). The traffic pattern altitude at Santa Monica Airport is 1,400 feet, so I’m pretty sure that covers it. The airplanes can fly around and around the airport without violating the FAA regulations the hooligan is bringing up.

Although, and this is really the point, FAR 91.119 starts with the most important sentence:

Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

Any time I am flying over Venice I am either taking off or landing, so the rules about altitude do not apply to my aircraft. I can fly ten feet above your roof if that is what I need to do to land the airplane safely at the airport.

But really what we have here is a “not in my backyard” resident. I have written letters to my representative before about the danger of these short-term thinkers.

There is no real answer to the NIMBY people. They would like the safety of a well-trained pilot population without having to contribute to the infrastructure necessary for that to happen. They would like Emergency Medical Services and a fire and rescue network but they don’t want any of it to happen near them, until it is needed near them.

What can you say to someone that wants the benefits of a society without wanting to contribute to it? I can’t think of anything. They are that sort of person. I hope they move out to the wilderness, which is a more appropriate environment for them, more congruent to their attitude.

Meanwhile, I hope more Santa Monica and Venice residents figure out that the efforts to close the airport are really the efforts of real estate developers to grab billions of dollars in profits, nothing more. Without the regulated airspace around the airport the high-rise development on Wilshire east of the 405 will eventually just march to the sea. If you think the City of Santa Monica will stop it, you haven’t been paying attention to local politics for very long. And if you are curious how closing the airport will affect the airplane noise you experience, you might want to drive down to the area just south of LAX some night around 8pm. Nothing will stop the controllers from routing airliners over the Santa Monica itself a thousand feet lower than they are now. Local noise ordinances are over-ruled by Federal Aviation Administration airspace rules, and you can discuss your amazement with the people in the New York metropolitan area who had no say in the reorganization of the Newark-JFK-LaGuardia airspace and approaches.

(For the record, I don’t like dog parks. Noisy, smelly, and offer me no benefit. I am not arguing they should be closed. And I think everyone should be driving an electric car, but I am not tracking down that original poster and ordering them to “stop driving your internal combustion automobile in Santa Monica!”)

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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3 Responses to No Fly Zone

  1. Chris says:

    Well…at least whoever it was said “please”.

    A few years ago, we had a local example of “airport vs vocal minority” and the histrionics coming from that conflict were absolutely astounding, if nowhere near the national-scale circus happening around SMO. One complaint from a neighborhood one mile from the airport was that airplanes were routinely “flying between the houses” – a statement so patently ludicrous as to lack all credibility (except, unfortunately, with the media), but it provides insight into how worked-up the homeowners had gotten themselves. The homeowners were appalled that the airport, a non-towered field about five miles from the local Class C commercial airport, was not under tower control from the commercial airport (that would require one heck of a good pair of binoculars, I think). Attempts to educate the neighbors about how the system actually works in the real world (rather than how non-aviators think it might/should work) were futile. Like your anonymous commentator, the group fighting the airport liked to misquote and cherry-pick FAA regulations to suit their purpose. I fail to understand how people who have chosen to situate their brand new homes a mile from an existing airport can convince themselves that their ire with the neighborhood airport is justified. But this counter-argument has been around as long as airport complaints and never seems to gain any traction.

    When my former home airport was hit with a complaint from a neighbor (sparked by a low flying – or perceived low flying – airplane), the manager met it head on with a smile. He invited the folks on site, explained how airport operations worked, and I gave the homeowner (who lived under the final approach path) a few rides around the pattern so he could see things from the pilot’s perspective and gain some understanding of the safety issues in the pilot’s mind as he/she is maneuvering to land. The whole experience tightened the bond with that neighbor and gave everyone (on both sides) a good perspective. I have not heard of any complaints since. It’s probably too late for such an approach to work at SMO, but maybe there’s a good lesson there for the rest of us.

  2. Dave says:

    It strikes me that, you know, there are places in the world where there is no GA (for all intents and purposes).

    Places like China (for now…), North Korea, etc. What a joy it is to live in those countries, perhaps we can arrange for this person to visit for a bit and see what it is like to live in a place without those little prop planes buzzing around? That or maybe just fly a Piaggio Avanti around their house (at legal altitude, of course) on a daily basis until they appreciate how quiet a Twinstar is.

    Colin you have a very mature and high-minded response to this person, I can’t say the same for myself =)

    I’m fascinated by people who live in high population density areas, who can’t imagine not living in such an area, and then spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional stress trying to fight the inevitable consequences of urban living.

  3. GnarlyOldGuy says:

    As Chris mentioned above, I am always fascinated by those people who move into a neighborhood, in the vicinity of an airport, and then expect the airport to go away because they don’t like the noise/smell/whatever.
    Did you happen to read those disclosure statements in your sales contract? It’s required to disclose that the airport is close by, if you missed that or failed to read that part of the contract, your problem, learn to deal with it.
    It’s not even a NIMBY attitude really, it was already in their backyard, they chose to initially accept the conditions or possibly deluded themselves into thinking they could change it.
    Frustrating

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