Your Local Airport: Benefitting Your Community

Smaller airports provide a ramp to the world

Dave Higdon  |  19th August 2016
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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Santa Monica Airport (SMO)

Santa Monica's City Council last month voted (again) to close Santa Monica Airport (SMO), reports Dave Higdon. It's another sad reflection of how underrated and undervalued local non-airline airports are nationwide...

The City of Santa Monica has been trying to get out from under its grant obligations for decades, while simultaneously enjoying the economic benefits brought by its thriving General Aviation field. It accepted another grant in 2003, which brought a 20-year commitment to keep the airport open.

Neighbors, all of whom moved into the area after SMO began operating in 1919, object to the noise. You'd think people would consider the impact of having an airport as a neighbor before moving into the neighborhood! But that's not how airport objectors typically work. They move in – then expect the airport to change...because they moved in.

The land on which SMO sits began being used as an airport even before the airport's formal opening as Clover Field - and operations there have been traced as far back as 1917.

Failure to See an Airport's Value...

A recent story in the Appleton Post-Crescent highlighted a reader's question about nearby Wittman Regional Airport which read: “What is Wittman Regional Airport used for besides EAA’s annual AirVenture? It’s got to cost a pile of money to maintain.”

Input from EAA's Dick Knapinski countered that Wittman suffers from a common misperception by people outside aviation – in particular General Aviation. Essentially, they believe that airports without airline service serve no benefit.

"That’s like saying if a road doesn’t carry passenger bus and semi-truck traffic, it’s not worth it," Knapinski responded.

And that's the kicker the citizens of SMO don't or won't recognize SMO provides jobs, financial benefits and transportation alternatives to the crowds flooding through Los Angeles International (LAX), Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR), and Long Beach Airport (LGB) for commercial flights. It also provides a more convenient option for many GA operators than Van Nuys (VNY) and Zamperini Field in Torrance.

Strips of Pavement Going Everywhere

We who fly aircraft for business and personal reasons often sell short the attitude of neighbors who question the value of GA airports. It's not just the big, busy strips that face challenges from nearby neighborhoods. Yet from experience it's become apparent that reasonable people can see the value their nearby airports provide – even those lacking airline service.

Air carrier airports number about 500 in the US; GA airports number approximately 5,000. All of them are of value to Business Aviation operators, even if not all can accept all types of aircraft. And every one of them, from the shortest dirt strips to ones boasting miles-long runways, can connect to the other. If the aircraft can use it, that runway sets no limits on where you can go.

Those little strips almost always provide community benefit, whether in commerce, emergencies or economic development.

For Oshkosh and its county, Wittman's economic benefits run into the tens-of-millions, providing hundreds of jobs – and that’s without taking into account AirVenture. The impact is even higher for SMO.

Although EAA's Knapinski didn't coin the phrase, he put it to excellent use when explaining the value of Wittman Regional beyond its use during AirVenture. "Airports are just as important as a piece of local infrastructure as highways and railways, but with one major advantage: If you build a mile of road, you can go one mile. If you build a mile of runway, you can go anywhere."

I wonder if Santa Monica will notice that loss come July 1, 2023. It'll be that long because the FAA this week reaffirmed its earlier finding that SMO must remain open and accessible until June 30, 2023.

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