Santa Monica Airport Controllers Join Skirball Fire Battle

Just days before the city of Santa Monica is set to temporarily close Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) to shorten its runway, air traffic controllers at the facility joined the response teams fighting the Skirball Fire, the Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) said. Controllers handled water-dropping helicopters, Los Angeles Police Department helicopters, and news-gathering aircraft in the airspace as the fight to contain the fires raging through the area continues. 

“Despite Santa Monica City Council efforts to close 100-year-old Santa Monica Municipal Airport, the airport and its Federal Aviation Administration–staffed control tower continue to provide critical air traffic services for fighting hazards of all kinds,” said SMAA, which has been engaged in a legal battle to save the airport.

SMO is designated as critical infrastructure by the city’s “All Hazards Mitigation Plan,” the association said. “Yet the city council is silent on how it will replace this key local disaster-response asset if it is successful in closing the airport,” SMAA said. “With all the natural disasters surrounding Los Angeles—fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes—local community lives will depend on SMO in any kind of disaster.”

SMAA is involved in legal efforts to overturn an agreement between the FAA and the city that paves the way for the immediate shortening of the airport’s sole runway from 5,000 to 3,500 feet and for the airport to close altogether at the end of 2028. “Loss of SMO as an airport, and the city’s stated ‘creative reuse’ of its structures, will additionally greatly exacerbate population density and traffic congestion within the city limits and in neighboring communities,” the association contends. It adds that the airport generates around 1,500 jobs and at least $241 million annually in economic activity.

The city is moving ahead with a plan to close the airport to operations from the evening of December 12 through early December 23, while it completes the necessary painting and other changes required for shortening of the runway.