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Official Sees No Purpose in Sharing Data : FAA Rejects L. B. Bid for Airport Incident Reports

February 02, 1986|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A Federal Aviation Administration official has rebuffed a request by the City Council for reports on any dangerous aviation incidents at Long Beach Airport.

Jimmie J. McCord, the FAA's air traffic manager in Long Beach, said he does not see "any advantage" in the proposal because city officials have no jurisdiction over aircraft once they roll onto a runway.

"It would really serve no purpose," McCord said in an interview Thursday. "I don't know what the city would do with information about a particular incident once they had it."

While the city is responsible for aircraft while they are parked or taxi to a runway, a plane is under FAA supervision once it reaches the runway.

McCord notified city officials that he was refusing his request on Thursday in a letter to Airport Manager Tom Commeau. The council had voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to request that the reporting procedure be established.

Councilman Edd Tuttle, chief backer of the reporting process, disagreed with McCord's view that the information is not needed by the city. Tuttle said council members need to be aware of dangerous incidents so they can make informed decisions on airport policies.

Touch-and-Go Landings

As an example, Tuttle said the council could limit the hours for touch-and-go practice landings if it were determined that such maneuvers create a hazard at the airport.

Tuttle also said he felt timely reports are needed so council members can more closely monitor operations "in light of the FAA's track record" during 1985, the worst year for airline fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.

"I think the gentleman from the FAA doesn't want anyone to be looking over his shoulder," Tuttle said.

Tuttle cited a Nov. 9 incident involving a softball-sized chunk of ice that fell from a United Airlines Boeing 737 on approach to Long Beach Airport and hit a house under the flight path.

United officials acknowledged that their plane had dropped the ice and sent the homeowner a flight coupon worth $100 to compensate for the cost of a metal window awning that was damaged. In a letter to the homeowner, the FAA said its investigation of the plane's maintenance records showed there were no water leaks.

'Ice Obviously Fell'

Tuttle said the FAA should have gone further and inspected the aircraft itself.

"I have to raise the issue of who is watching the FAA," Tuttle said. "That ice obviously fell from that aircraft, but the FAA is assuming nothing was wrong."

trying to faa response

If city officials "take the posture of looking the other way or burying their heads in the sand" on safety issues at the airport, the city could face costly liability problems if an accident occurs, Tuttle said.

"There's been no comprehensive analysis of these types of events in our local skies," Tuttle said. "It might be a good idea for us to sit down with the FAA folks and see what's gone on out there in the last few years, because nobody knows."

Finally, Tuttle charged that FAA officials are attempting to wield power over operation of the airport while not remaining accountable to local lawmakers and residents.

Tuttle said he would, if necessary, file a weekly freedom-of-information request with the FAA for reports on all aviation incidents at the Long Beach Airport.

McCord said the FAA is more than willing to turn over information on incidents when city officials make a request, but that establishing a formal procedure for forwarding all information reports would prove too time-consuming.

"If the FAA had to make reports to every city in the country concerning every minor incident, that's probably all we'd get done," McCord said.

He said such a reporting process would be akin to the city's Police Department demanding that the California Highway Patrol send the city reports on all accidents along the San Diego Freeway, something the CHP does not do.

In any case, McCord said, FAA officials in Long Beach maintain good communications with the airport's managers, who are city employees.

'They're Going to Know About It'

"If it's something that's going to impact them, one way or another they're going to know about it," he said.

Nonetheless, much of the more detailed information on investigations is kept under wraps, McCord said. Generally, aviation incidents or accidents are subject to months of investigation and any information is kept confidential until the inquiry is concluded, he said.

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