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'Making It Safer'--Controlling the Crowded Sky

October 05, 1986

The papers have been full of stories about the air disaster that took place in Cerritos on Aug. 31, the latest being your editorial, "Making It Safer" (Sept. 22).

A lot has been written about the crowded skies, which the Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for policing, but the FAA has jurisdiction over only general aviation and commercial planes and not over the military operations that bombard us. None of the articles that I have read on the Cerritos tragedy have mentioned the demographics of military use of air space in Orange County and its impact on safety in the skies.

I live within one-fourth mile of Katella Avenue, a corridor that the helicopters from Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center use prolifically, flying over the homes of about 500,000 people--5,000 residents per square mile.

They fly under 1,500 feet, sometimes in pods of six or eight, and their greatest activity takes place during those times when families are home--late afternoons, evenings and on weekends. The noise is devastating. The crash-risk factor is a nightmarish possibility.

Los Alamitos is an extremely active base, handling more than the maximum 113,000 flights annually that the airfield should handle, according to an environmental impact statement.

Los Alamitos is only one of half a dozen or more military airfields that use Orange County airspace. One wonders if anyone knows the total number of military air operations over Orange County in any given year?

Meanwhile, down at John Wayne Airport there are about 450,000 operations, (takeoffs and landings) annually, 90% of which are general aviation planes, not commercial airlines. General aviation includes a lot of small planes that also like to use the same airspace as the military helicopters--under 1,500 feet.

To appreciate the real mix that is there, add the activity from other commercial and privately owned airfields. We have over us one big, impacted sky that is certainly going to yield more air tragedies similar to Cerritos, according to an authority, Brig. Gen. William A. Bloomer, former commander of Marine Corps Air Bases, Western Area.

On Aug. 14, the House of Representatives asked the nation's top military brass to consider ridding Orange County of noisy helicopters at Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center and building much-needed Navy housing there instead. The measure passed and must be approved by the Senate and signed by the President.

A mammoth step toward cleaning up Orange County air space would be to remove the helicopters from the Los Alamitos base. Also, the FAA needs to have full control over all operations in the air, including the military.


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