Closing Time

Written by Kevin Garrison
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By Kevin Garrison

KSMO will soon join the ever-lengthening list of excellent airports that were killed by obliviousness, lack of imagination and greed.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport (KSMO) is most likely toast. It will be gone soon, and local noise abatement enthusiasts, politicians who say they are serving the people and numerous real estate investors will do a little happy dance. 

Once it’s gone, KSMO—like every other airport closed in order to serve short-term economic goals—will never, ever be back. It will join the ever-lengthening list of excellent airports that were killed by obliviousness, lack of imagination and greed.

We pilots are fighting this apparent suspension of logical thought by the government of Santa Monica, but we are fighting a tsunami of misinformation and avarice.

Warning: trigger words!

All of the so-called “trigger words” have been used by the anti-aviation groupies to justify killing one of the most historically significant airports in the United States. 

The most commonly used dirty word that I could find was “one-percenter.” Citing the made-up fact that only super-rich people fly airplanes, the anti-aviation crowd demands that these people and their money go elsewhere.

It is true that rich overachievers have been seen slouching around KSMO from time to time. People like Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Harrison Ford and a plethora of talented—and yes, rich—people have flown out of and based their aircraft at KSMO. 

It is also true that During World War II the place was a beehive of aircraft building activity. Originally called Clover Field, it was a vital part of our national defense. And the aircraft manufacturing there not only boosted the local economy, it saved democracy. 

In history as close as yesterday’s flying lesson, blue collar workers have learned how to fly there, pilots who have teamed up in aircraft partnerships have scrimped and saved to have their inexpensive airplanes based there, and history—going back to the founding of aviation in America—has taken place on that piece of ground. 

A disaster movie in the making

The crowded ramp of the bizjets, the working students, the movie stars and all of the people who made their living at KSMO will go away, and they’ll take their talent and money with them. It is a disaster movie that the kill-the-airport crowd of Santa Monica has no idea is coming to a theater near them.

Corporate aircraft that used to fly into KSMO will most likely head down to KLAX, leading the people of Santa Monica to complain about all the delays at Los Angeles International. I am almost certain that more than one of them will write to their local government official to do something about it.

The next earthquake will happen around Santa Monica eventually and I am willing to bet that many of the same people who wanted the airport closed will begin complaining that emergency services—like National Guard helicopters, air ambulances and emergency supplies—aren’t getting to them soon enough. 

I won’t waste any more ink telling you why KSMO is important to the world in general or to you as a pilot specifically. That would be preaching to the choir. You may not even care all that much if KSMO is turned into strip malls, vape shops and overpriced condos. But… 

Let’s all go to that new airport! Wait...

Let me ask you this—and I am asking because I really want to know—when was the last time you heard about or read about a brand-new General Aviation airport being built? Personally, I can’t remember a single instance of this happening in my (rather long) lifetime. 

I can remember dozens and dozens of airports closing. The one that stands out in my mind as I write this was Merrill C. Meigs Field Airport (KCGX) in Chicago. 

Meigs Field was built as a city airport for Chicago. It existed on a little island out in the Lake Michigan and was within easy walking distance or a short cab ride to downtown Chicago as well as numerous museums and attractions.

It was so convenient that a youngish brown-haired Delta Airlines 727 flight engineer could fly his family down to Meigs in a Skyhawk and spend a nice day with them visiting The Field Museum. 

At one time, Meigs Field as the busiest single-strip airport in the United States. People could land their aircraft literally in the city and attend to business, bringing tons of money into Chicago.

In 2003 Mayor Richard M. Daley had the place bulldozed in the middle of the night and nobody has flown in or out of there since. I don’t really know what kind of oafish ignorance led to this airport murder, but I do know that the place is still closed and they’ll never build another. (The location was renamed Northerly Island. —Ed.)

I have to tell you that the idea of nice airports facing the same horrible fate of Meigs Field makes me angry because it reminds me of the buffalo. 

When Europeans and others moving and living in the west discovered the huge buffalo herds covering the landscape, they could not believe their eyes. There was no end to the stampeding groups of these large and hardy animals. You could sit in one spot and literally kill hundreds of them and it did not seem to lessen their numbers. 

Been to any buffalo stampedes lately?

Anarchy!

The anarchist in me is yelling in the back of my mind that we General Aviation people should go on some sort of national or regional strike to show people just how valuable we are. 

Maybe if the Santa Monicans were totally cut off from General Aviation for a few weeks, they’d be begging for us to fly our G550s and C-150s into KSMO. Imagine if their overnight packages took a week to get there!

Of course, nothing like this is going to happen. We General Aviation people are very much like the proverbial chicken in a warm pot of water. It feels like a nice, relaxing hot tub right now. We won’t feel that we are well and truly cooked until it is too late. 

The question we have to ask

I think we need to ask a simple question that may not turn this thing around but will at least let our cooks know that we know we’re sitting in a pot of bouillabaisse. 

The question is this: what next? “O.K.,” we say. “What next?

“You’ve closed KSMO. Is the next thing to close another nearby General Aviation airport? Will you destroy the next one after that? 

“What airport do you people in Santa Monica—who until only recently were dependent on KSMO to provide a defense for the United States as well as steady jobs—plan to destroy next? 

“What’s next when the movie stars and the one-percenters that you think you are taking to task finally throw up their hands and move their aircraft—and their money—to Montana? 

“How many million-dollar condos do you think you can sell after all the money leaves town?”

We pilots and aircraft owners will suffer if this “burn the seed corn” mentality on the part of the government and the public continues, but you know what? We will adapt and flourish. And maybe we’ll move out to Montana with Harrison and the gang.

Kevin Garrison’s aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Fla. He came up through General Aviation and retired as a 767 captain in 2006. Currently Garrison is a DC-9 simulator instructor and a 767 pilot instructor; his professional writing career has spanned three decades. He lives with the most patient woman on the planet on a horse farm in Kentucky. Send questions or comments to .

December 2016. The High & the Writey