Luckily Thursday night’s emergency landing at MCAS Miramar, the second threatening La Jolla and University City that we know of in the past 16 months, did not result in any deaths.

This means we can talk freely about what these incidents signify without getting sidetracked into talk about fuel levels and degrees of patriotism. Descending into Miramar over La Jolla and University City is prohibited in flight safety rules currently in place in California.

The landing pattern is incompatible, to paraphrase the official language, with the land use development that lies below it.  The Marines and Airport Authority know this, which is one reason why the route is scarcely used and why it does not appear in the current Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan — a state mandated plan governing things like airport arrival and departure paths.

The fatal 2008 crash brought to light a tragic loophole in this governance; the Marines can keep the route open because it existed before the current rules were put in place. What is considered too unsafe to put in place now is considered okay if it already exists. Unlucky for La Jolla and University City, the value of the route is in its proximity and orientation to the Pacific.

It is ideal for emergencies beginning at sea; better than other routes to Miramar. Its approach is relatively straight-in and does not necessarily require maneuvers that a trainee in a distressed plane can’t do.

This signals that while rare, it is likely that most planes descending over La Jolla and University City on their way to Miramar are planes experiencing an emergency.  Our communities must live with the reality that if it’s overhead the chances are good it’s a plane in extremis hoping to avoid a crash.

There is no logic in formulating landing route safety guidelines and than ignoring them because of historical patterns anymore than there is telling a 6-year old they have to wear a bike helmet while their 9-year old sibling does not because they were born before the helmet law existed.

The Marines and the Airport Authority know this pattern is unsafe. They keep it open to protect one plane and one pilot over any number of civilians on the ground.

It may be legal but it isn’t right.    

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