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As Airport Grows, Forecasters Cite Expansion Limits

October 21, 1985|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

By the year 2000, Burbank Airport will have a modern control tower and terminal offering passengers more comfortable and convenient access to airlines. Almost 8 million passengers will fly to and from the airport each year, a steep increase from the current 2.7 million air travelers. An average of 226 planes will arrive at and depart from the facility each day, up from the current 126.

Or so say some forecasters.

But others say that, despite the steady growth of Burbank Airport's operations and the recent addition of an eighth airline authorized to fly out of the facility, those dreams and projections may never come true. They say that its expansion will be limited by legal, physical and governmental restrictions.

Anti-noise groups also are expected to play a vocal and significant role in airport development decisions, further limiting growth.

So many are the barriers to development that airport officials claim that it is easier to predict what the airport will not become, rather than what it will.

'Be a Good Neighbor'

"As far as where I would like to see the airport in 20 years, I would like to be able to see it handle the needs of the public, but also be a good neighbor," Burbank Airport Manager Tom Greer said. "But Burbank will never be a Los Angeles International Airport. The accommodations and types of air service provided by carriers would never be placed on Burbank like LAX."

Airport officials acknowledge that activity at the airport has been rising steadily, an issue of concern to surrounding communities affected by jet noise. But they say that there is only so much air traffic the airport can handle, and that the future of the airport is rooted in its limited acreage, proximity to mountains and the perpendicular layout of the two runways.

"Not even a new terminal will increase the flights," said Robert Garcin, president of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority. "Passengers will go to Burbank because of the convenience of the flights, not because it's a big or new terminal. And having more conveniences is not going to cause American Airlines or some other airline to say that, 'Well, let's fly out of Burbank now.' "

Greer agreed. "I don't see the market for an unlimited number of planes in Burbank," he said. "This will still be just a regional airport serving the corporate industrial base of the San Fernando Valley."

No Master Plan Adopted

The Airport Authority has failed to adopt a master plan for growth, although anti-noise forces assert that it has been keying growth to an unadopted 1981 master plan. That plan envisioned nearly three times the number of passengers as there are today.

Because of this, the homeowners say, the Airport Authority last month rubber-stamped Trans World Airlines' application to begin two round trips a day from Burbank to St. Louis on Nov. 15.

With the addition of TWA, eight major commercial air carriers will fly out of the airport, which has an 11-gate terminal built 50 years ago. The Airport Authority is negotiating with Lockheed Corp. to acquire land to build the new terminal because the Federal Aviation Administration has said that the existing building is too close to runways. The new terminal, however, would have the same number of gates.

Greer said several airlines would be able to share the 11 gates of the new terminal, but that a large increase in the number of flights is not expected.

"It's hard to know the capacity until we know flight schedules and determine how we would juggle what's happening on the runways," Greer said.

Airlines Pleased

Executives for most of the airlines serving Burbank Airport, including TWA, with its soon-to-be inaugurated service, said they were pleased with their operations at Burbank. Officials from airlines such as PSA and Continental said they considered Burbank a vital location, but they have no plans to expand their short- and medium-haul operations.

"We feel that this is the perfect regional airport, and we've done very well here," said Bill Hastings, a spokesman for PSA. He said PSA flew more than 1.5 million passengers to and from Burbank Airport last year.

Other major airlines contacted by The Times that do not use the airport indicated that they had no current interest in starting operations there. A Delta Air Lines official said he felt the airport "was too small a location" for them to house an operation. A Pan American World Airways spokesman simply said Burbank Airport "does not fit" into their future plans.

The 1981 master plan indicates that while the airport is important "because of its convenient location and its ability to satisfy a significant portion of the air transportation needs of area residents and businesses," it was unlikely that carriers would want to extensively expand their operations there because existing runways restrict the size of airplanes, thus limiting the number of passengers and making most longer flights uneconomical.

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