Private jet traffic at Santa Monica Airport is soaring, boosted by a strong economy, congestion at nearby Los Angeles International Airport and growth in the entertainment industry.
“Our revenues have gone up probably double in the last five years,” said David Bilson, president and owner of Trans-Exec Air Service in Santa Monica, which operates three Gulfstream jets at the airport.
Bilson said almost all of his charter business is related to the entertainment or finance industries, both of which have a strong presence on the Westside and Century City.
Jet takeoffs and landings at Santa Monica have gone up 25 percent in the last five years, from 4,800 to 6,000, according to airport officials.
Aircraft businesses also report an increase in charter flights at Van Nuys and Burbank airports. At Burbank, private jet operations are up 10 percent over the past three years, based on jet fuel consumption, said Robert Volk, chairman and chief executive of Media Aviation, one of two companies that fuel and service private jets at Burbank.
Santa Monica officials say the boost in flights is particularly strong because of growing congestion at LAX.
“A lot of the jets that would use LAX are shying away from there and using ours more and more, to the detriment of the neighbors,” said Santa Monica Airport Manager Robert Trimborn.
Mayor Bob Holbrook said the city cannot exclude jets, but may look at taking additional measures such as installing a blast wall to shield neighbors from fumes and noise.
“It has changed the character of the airport a lot,” Holbrook said. “We can’t let it get worse.”
Bilson and other charter operators, however, see demand continuing to grow because of the booming economy and all the amenities and service that go along with a chartered flight more space, security, conference tables, couches, and the ability to fly when you want.
“Once you’ve done it, it spoils you good,” said Ken Curry, general manager of Petersen Aviation at Van Nuys Airport. “The economy has helped a lot and demand for air charter has gone up.”
Bilson said chartering one of his Gulfstreams from Santa Monica to New York runs about $40,000 roundtrip. Even so, each of his jets averages 65 flight hours per month, up from 40 or 50 hours five years ago.
Although less than 10 jets are based at Santa Monica (including one owned by Merv Griffin), the facility is frequently used by jets based elsewhere.
Built in 1919, Santa Monica Airport is one of the oldest continually operating airports in the country and was used early on by the movie industry. But as residential communities grew up around it, neighbors began to complain. The closest residents are 225 feet from the runway.
While there was a move to ban jets in the 1970s, the city instead enacted noise regulations in 1984. Trimborn said it’s “one of the most aggressive noise-control programs in the U.S.”
A maximum decibel level was established for aircraft noise, which is monitored at sites 1,500 feet from the end of the runway. The results are fed into a computer in the noise compliance office. Any offending pilots are sent a warning letter.
“Safety is No. 1, but noise a close second,” Trimborn said.
Still, the increased jet traffic has meant some late night landings, which can sometimes wake up neighbors, said David Kaplan, a member of the city Airport Commission who lives north of the airport.
Violations of the city’s noise ordinance have also risen, but surprisingly, complaints have gone down. The airport receives about three complaints a day, down from about 20 a day five years ago, said Jason Morgan, coordinator of noise/airside operations.
Most complaints are related to jets, which generally are noisier and produce more fumes than propeller planes.
Barry Vaughan, an airport-area resident who co-chairs a group that examined ways to cut noise, said many airport neighbors are resigned to the noise increase but are looking at any way they can to reduce the impact, including construction of a new blast wall.