Home>Articles>The Hidden Airport Crisis in SoCal: How One Airport Closure Is Creating Major Problems

Santa Monica Airport (Photo: Evan Symon for California Globe)

The Hidden Airport Crisis in SoCal: How One Airport Closure Is Creating Major Problems

‘Santa Monica did the most selfish thing possible and decided to close it and screw over everyone else’

By Evan Symon, March 24, 2022 2:44 am

For the last several years, a crisis has been quietly brewing in airports across Southern California, and to an extent, the rest of California: the closure of airports and reduction of services. Given how hard it is to open an airport, the loss of any airport feels especially permanent, more so in Southern California than anywhere else.

Complaints of  jet traffic, noise pollution, and other factors at airports in Van Nuys, Burbank, Hawthorne and others have continued to grow due to multiple factors, but two big ones stand out: the continued closure of Santa Monica airport and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Let’s start at Santa Monica. Originally known as Clover Field, the airport quickly grew when the Douglas Airplane Company moved in in the 1920’s, and even more during WWII. The airport became essential for private aircraft post-war and became known as the airport for celebrities who liked to fly. People like Harrison Ford still fly out of, and occasionally crash, near there. But as Santa Monica grew, noise complaints went up. Residents suddenly surprised that aircraft were noisy near their homes pressured the city to do something about it, and in the 2010’s, the city reached an agreement with the FAA to close the airport by 2028. As a final act of spite, the city shortened the runway enough to divert all jet air traffic away in 2017.

Santa Monica got rid of their problem at the expense of the rest of the region though. Air traffic, jet noise complaints, pollution, lowered property values, and other factors began spiking at nearby airports almost immediately, with Burbank, Hawthorne, and Van Nuys getting the brunt of it. Airplanes needed somewhere to go, especially private planes that couldn’t afford fees at LAX and other larger airports. Soon residents began fighting the growing traffic in those cities. However those planes needed somewhere to go. Airports were still needed to land private aircraft ranging from trainers used to help train pilots to address the growing pilot shortage to private jets landing there to help keep larger airports more free for commercial traffic. Removing an airport doesn’t remove those planes.

FAA and other airport officials even said that all of these issues stemmed directly from Santa Monica’s decision to close down the airport.

Air traffic, noise issues multiply during Santa Monica Airport closure process

Compounding the plane traffic diversion was the COVID-19 pandemic. While commercial traffic trailed off for years, charter air traffic went up by leaps and bounds. And with Santa Monica now no longer an option because they chopped up part of the runway, all these planes had to go to the few other airport options in and around LA, exacerbating problems in the region. The problem has persisted for several years, with large events, such as the Super Bowl, showing plane traffic jams that may not have happened if Santa Monica had been allowed to stay open.

“This is a difficult issue,” said an air traffic controller who asked to remain anonymous Wednesday. “Residents, you know, are fed up with the noise and pollution and planes landing past the scheduled quiet times. They were in Santa Monica ten years ago. But Santa Monica did the most selfish thing possible and decided to close it and screw over everyone else. Burbank residents especially have been furious over the increased traffic. But we’re not building any airports to replace Santa Monica, nor are we expanding others. Planes formerly there need to spread out to surrounding airports up to Santa Barbara, south to Orange County and out East to the Inland Empire. But people also need to be close to planes.”

“It is idiotic to close Santa Monica. Again, I feel for the residents who have to face this. It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t have bought a home near an airport if you didn’t want the noise. But it’s just a matter of fact that the planes needed to go somewhere. This is a crisis that no one really wants to talk about because no one really thinks about it unless it is directly affecting them, but we are all starting to feel it. And with gas now going up, aviation gas always being a dollar or two more than regular gas, pilots are being selective where they go. And they all really wish that Santa Monica residents didn’t do this. They got what they wanted but made life hell for everyone else.”

“Best case scenario would be a last minute saving of the airport and bringing back the jets, but that would be so hard to do at this point. I can only imagine what residents there would do if they managed to reverse the closure. But it sure would reverse all these issues at virtually all airports here. In time for the Olympics too, because that will be an air nightmare here in six years time.”

While commercial air traffic is now normalizing again, it is yet to be seen if this leads to any relief to the rest of LA’s airport traffic and noise problems.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Evan Symon
Spread the news:


93 thoughts on “The Hidden Airport Crisis in SoCal: How One Airport Closure Is Creating Major Problems

  1. Santa Monica is populated and run by woke, climate change leftists who vote Democrat and are in line with the political correctness of the day, and they will always look out for number one no matter how much it hurts others. They will never allow Santa Monica Airport to stay. Poor John Travolta and Harrison Ford will have to find new homes for their planes.

    1. Nope, the problem is that the developers covet the property. You should at least read up on the issue before commenting.

    2. You’re giving the tiny anti-airport minority too much credit. They’re not out for the climate; they’re not out for “safety;” they’re not even out about the now-decimated noise. They’re despicable land speculators out to boost their property values, once, by stealing from the rest of us forever.

      You’re also ignoring the vast majority of Santa Monica airport users who are NOT celebrities nor rich, along with the people who work there.

      SMO is not closed, and doesn’t have to be. Michael Huerta betrayed us all by agreeing to a back-room, illegal deal to allow the city to destroy part of our national transportation infrastructure. Now we’ll see if the majority of Santa Monicans can be persuaded to get off their asses and force the city to keep the airport open for their own good. If they don’t, they’ll learn the price of corruption and complacency in a new world of degraded living standards on the ground and from heavy jets now flying lower and louder over their homes.

  2. I actually live under the flight path in Santa Monica. When I bought my house there were prop planes and an occasional loud jet. Around 2008 Governor Arnold would take off around 4 am very low and loud. That was the start. Also, the jet traffic began to get heavier and heavier. The airport always had an agreement to close. They just bought some time with the twelve year delay. I don’t particularly hate the prop planes. The jets are pretty loud. No other airport in the country is in such close proximity to homes.

    1. You know what pisses me off? People that buy a house near an airport knowing the airport was there FIRST and then complaining about airport noise and lowered property values afterwards. What a bunch of bull! You know what the most important “Main Street” of any town is? The airport! I’m tired of giving in to left leaning individuals. We are always told as pilots to be quiet, caring neighbors. Look what that has gotten us. More closures and constantly moving us out when we were there first. It’s time we pilots and owners start pushing back on these woke individuals. I’m so sick and tired of leftists, cancel culture, and California BS!

      1. What California needs is a ‘tough crap’ law like Wisconsin. If you build/buy a house next to a pig farm and then complain about the smell then ‘tough crap’ – you knew the pig farm was there before your purchase/lease/rent.

    2. Hi Lisa, the airport did not always have an agreement to close. The Federal government gave the airport to the city on condition it would operate as an airport in perpetuity. The city flat out reneged on the deal and the Feds negotiated a delay instead of taking back the airport as they should have done. I don’t know what kind of back-room political deal was done there. Leaving the airport open to prop planes and quiet jets (yes, they exist) would be a big help. As a personal example, I fly in from San Diego in a 2-seat prop plane for business: our Century City office is 15 minutes away in morning traffic. If Santa Monica closes, I’ll have to fly to Whiteman and spend more than an hour driving to Century City – and back again at the end of the day. If they close the airport maybe there will be a little park, but the airport website doesn’t have a real estate sales link because of demand from park investors. And, now you know how Santa Monica treats promises to the Federal government, how confident are you about its promises to you? Be absolutely sure there will be housing – lots of it – and it will bring many, many more cars. I used to live in Santa Monica and commute to Culver West, and it was a remarkably long commute for a short distance. I can’t imagine how it will be when Santa Monica airport is a city the size of Mar Vista.
      Oh, and yes, the real estate developers are trying to close Whiteman airport too, although neighbors have said they don’t want that. Airports don’t close to benefit local residents: they close for real estate developers’ campaign contributions.

    3. OK, but the jets are gone now. And this is not true: “The airport always had an agreement to close.”

      And the airport was there before the homes, so the correct viewpoint is: No other city was dumb enough to build homes that close to an airport. And, given that Santa Monica was, nobody who moved into them should be given 10 seconds of consideration when they start whining about it.

      A lot of airport users would have had no problem with the backroom deal if it had only meant that the runway would be shortened to get rid of the jets. But there’s no excuse at all to allow the runway shortening AND closure. The banishment of the jets and the arrival of unleaded fuel has eliminated any excuse that neighbors had for whining about the airport. It is now quieter and less polluting than it was when they moved in. I’d also say safer, except it essentially can’t be: No neighbor of the airport has been killed by a plane crash in A CENTURY. Meanwhile, someone dies in a wreck on Bundy Drive every year or two.

  3. Who fact checked this? The only “crisis” might be in your reporting and editing. Quick facts directly from the FAA: When SMO reduced the length of runway at the end of 2017, arrivals dropped by just *7* flights a day, comparing 2017 and 2018. That’s it. Spread around 3 airports that’s only 3 additional arrivals every day, hardly creating “major problems”. Plus, as of calendar year 2021, Burbank and Hawthorne actually have *LESS* arrivals than in 2017. Major crisis? Give me a break.

  4. Where will all the environmentalist celebrity activist land their private Jets, and keep them located so they can go to their next climate conference. Luckily Al Gore live further south and takes his jet from a different airport.

    1. My airplane has two seats, makes about as much noise as a car, and costs about as much as a Ford F150. I won’t be able to land either. Real people use that airport, and you probably don’t even notice us.

    2. Who cares? Most airport users are not even rich, let alone celebrities. Some people simply choose to spend their money on flying, instead of on a fancy car or dwelling. You can buy a perfectly decent plane for under $100K. Even half that, if you’re willing to put some work into it.

      Meanwhile, the city’s own study shows that SMO brings in a quarter-billion dollars into our economy; the airport fund currently has a $10-20 MILLION-dollar surplus. Yes, that’s a matter of legal fact and public record. So don’t let the city council lie to you about the airport being some kind of financial drain. It’s just the opposite.

      Your “playground of the rich” trope is played out and busted.

  5. Santa Paula….

    It’s in the still-sane Ventura County, is a HELLUVA lot prettier than SaMo, anyways…

  6. Hey dumba&& Santa Monicans – the airport was here A LOT LONGER than any of you were and you knew it was there when you bought your cramped ’20’s era bungalows for way too much cash…..
    Tough luck – do your due diligence next time…

  7. Hey, less planes able to use the airport, less automobiles driving to and from, less pollution of greenhouse gasses (is that still the trendy phrase or has it been changed, again?) and less pressure on the climate change thingy. Sounds like a win-win for all the caring, green, better folk…uh…folx…folkx….whatever and Mother Gaia…or is it Gaix? Does Gaix still identify as an ovary-possessing goddess?

    1. The airport will be housing. The city says it will be a park, sure: the city got the land by promising it would be an airport forever. The city’s promises are worthless. It will be housing- far, far more cars than go to and from the airport. Thousands and thousands more cars.

  8. Lead has been banned from paint, toys, and auto gas for decades. Burning leaded fuel and spraying lead on those on the ground is beyond selfish. There is no good excuse for this with all that is known about lead.. It is unsafe at any level, especially in young kids. The airport is surrounded by homes, schools and parks. And then there are noise and safety concerns. Airports do not make good neighbors and belong in industrial or less populated areas.

    1. I agree. We should also move noise and pollution of roads away from houses. We should require everyone to ride a bike until they are at least 10 miles from any houses…

    2. Clover Field was located in an unpopulated area. The homes, schools and parks came along later. Homes do not belong next to airports or off the ends of airport runways. That is what causes the safety issues that you are so concerned with. Homeowners who place themselves in noisy, dangerous places and then complain about the noise and danger, have nobody to blame but themselves. If you want to eliminate noise and pollution in Santa Monica, close the Santa Monica Freeway instead.

      1. I tend to agree with Brian, and scary enough, with the Wisconsin “Tough Toenails” law. I’ve lived in some areas where required home sale documents state that the property you are purchasing may fall within the approach/departure zone of an airport, and therefore, you are hereby notified… If a person does their due diligence before purchasing a home, etc. then they make a choice. If a person doesn’t do their due diligence, then they are irresponsible and the consequences should be on them.

        By the way, I am sure that many of you would refer to me as “a woke liberal” and I’m damn proud of it. But I also believe that I have a duty to be woke on all aspects of an issue. And by the way, you “repressive (and repressed) dictatorial cons” who would rather turn the U.S. into an autorcartic dictatorship, you have no right to throw stones. Instead of trying to create broad generalities about people, treat every person as an independent entity that makes choices on its own. Some have enough information to make logical decisions (note, logical to THEM, not necessarily to you, me or anyone else), some just follow a leader or a person of their choice. That is also a choice, as misguided as any of us may feel it is. In short, stop generalizing, stop attacking others for having beliefs different from yours, and let’s talk about facts and issues, not gross characterizations of groups. And let’s stop the “zero-sum game” mentality. There is no requirement that there be a 100% winner and a 100% loser in every instance. Compromise is a wonderful thing.

    3. My airplane burns unleaded. I refilled the tanks with the unleaded fuel sold at Santa Monica airport, yesterday. My plane makes as much noise as a car. There are lots of airport users like me.

    4. “Burning leaded fuel and spraying lead on those on the ground is beyond selfish.”

      Good news, then! Unleaded fuel is now approved for the entire piston fleet, and has replaced leaded fuel at SMO’s pump.

      Moving on to your other complaints: Thanks to the shorter runway, noise is now reduced below the levels present when people knowingly moved next door to the airport.

      And finally more good news, about safety: Not one neighbor of SMO has been killed by a plane crash in A CENTURY.

      But some bad news: A person is killed by Bundy Drive traffic every other year or so. So you can stop bellyaching for the airport to be shut down, and start campaigning against Bundy Drive.

  9. We agree Hate to go here DEMARCATES. You voted for the idiots to help! Now those same idiots live in lined pockets!!!THANKS TO YOU STUPID who voted for the idiots

  10. So many are ignorant of history — KSMO (the airport designator for Santa Moica) was the L O N G before all those
    cracker-box houses. Transients move in (without vetting the neighborhood) and then complain about everything. Guess America/Los Angeles deserves what it gets.

    1. Yes. Let’s talk history. The Ocean Park neighborhood was fully built up 1905 long before a single airplane ever flew out of Clover Field whose runway now directs noisy polluting jets directly overhead less than 5000′ away. I was BORN here long before a single private jet flew out of SMO. When the jets started the flying, that was the beginning of the end of SMO. A jetport in the middle of 100,000 homes is a really bad idea.

  11. I live right by the flight path of Palm Springs airport. It includes jet and piston traffic. Despite the much heavier traffic noise that Santa Monica residents would ever get, I would not in my right mind demand the closure of an airport. Shame on those NIMBY people who want to remove history and a necessary infrastructure.

  12. I feel terrible for all the folks who purchased their homes in Santa Monica prior to the airport being built, I assume those are the only residents complaining, or is it the less than astute home buyers who purchased their homes after full knowledge of the airport was in close proximity and are now choosing to complain. The FAA should force the City to reimburse them for all the improvements and maintenance incurred over the prior 100 years, then costs could be included as “assessments” in the property taxes of the whiners who knew perfectly well the airport was in the area. In other words, who was there first..

    1. The city reneged on the deal that gave it ownership of the airport. The Feds should resume ownership (eminent domain, critical infrastructure) and continue running the airport.

  13. I know trains are not as loud as jets but what about living by a train DEPO where you have train whistle all the time. Or a big commercial bus depot you get a lot of big motor coaches they produce some noise, you can not have your cake and eat it to. We need transportation but we complain about it being to close to home. Bottom line so you don’t like noise DO Not Move under active flight paths or by busy trains\busses

  14. Van Nuys airport and the FAS should enforce the limited hours for takes offs and landings which they don’t. Private and cargo jets now often fly over Granada Hills very late at night and very early in the morning. To register formal complaint FAA says to call the airport, airport says to call the FAA. Absurd.

  15. We purchased a new home in North Las Vegas. We signed a paper that stated the Nellis AFB will create noise in this area. We lived there 16 years and yes we heard the jets. There was a pig farm near, and yes we occasionally smelled the pigs. (They smelled us when the wind shifted) After 16 years we still heard the jets and sthe pigs still smelled us. Neighbors that complained I would ask them if they had READ their papers prior to purchase. Why do people whine and feel they can override their own dumbness. Buy near an ocean, you’re going to hear the waves. Buy near a volcano, you’re going to get your ass burned. DEAL with it.

  16. Wow, I never knew how entitled people could be. The airfield served its purpose in WWII. There are a few hundred who can enjoy the Airport, but a 100,000 who could enjoy what will be made of it. By the way, I think most people were fine with flight training and either STAYED in their house that was already there, or moved to the area (because of the severe lack of housing in the area). What pissed people off, was the arrival of loud private jets for people with money. Something that definitely was not around when the houses were built, and when most of the neighborhood moved in.

  17. I guess the airport found out how normal neighbors treat an obnoxious neighbor. Implementing the FAA’s NextGen to allow jets flying in through narrow corridors at all hours is terrible for the folks nearby. When you get to wake up at 5 am to listen to hedge funders fly to Aspen for an important Sunday of skiing, it seems that Santa Monica folks figured it out and did what they needed to. When the news story here says “Complaints of jet traffic, noise pollution, and other factors at airports in Van Nuys, Burbank, Hawthorne and others have continued to grow” what do you think their neighbors have in mind? No mention in the story of the FAA and their crackerjack problem solvers meeting the community half way? When the response to valid noise complaints is “suck it up, buttercup”, people start to think more creatively. Congrats Santa Monica for leading the way.

    1. The Feds could simply have repossessed the airport, under the terms of the original deal transferring it to the city. But they didn’t. Still, I could see a halfway deal: put in a park (there’s some space for one), and keep the airport for small planes, with strict noise limits. Deal?

      And then the developers won’t get to put in all those apartment buildings.

  18. Follow the $… IF there has been a Conspiracy to Defraud The United States by the ” Selected” city of Santa Monica government by reneging on an agreement made with the Federal Goverment in the past and the FAA agreed to a “deal” that also violated the initial agreement then both agreements are based upon Fraud in a Conspiracy to Defraud The United States. This means that both the City Government, any Developers Involved and also the FAA and any Federal Governemnt staff involved are guilty of violating 18 U.S. Code (my phone doesn’t have the subsection symbol option) 371 and the fraud makes the agreement invalid and null/void ( U.S. v. Throckmorton).

    As I see it since I live near an airport too, the airport was here long before I moved here so I have no right to complain. If you move to a new house in the country, you don’t get to complain about the neighbors rooster waking you up in the morning, so if you move next to an airport then the same applies. Not enforcing the night time curfew is not acceptable either. Long Beach is the standard for that with no takeoffs after 10pm and late landings after 11 are only permitted due to weather delays.

    Shortening the runway was a blatant safety error though. All they had to do was repaint it and not remove pavement unless the new wheel arresting concrete was installed to replace that pavement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *