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Airport Panel Joins Call for a Tower at Whiteman

January 22, 1987|T.W. McGARRY | Times Staff Writer

The Burbank Airport governing body joined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Monday in calling for installation of a federally operated control tower at Whiteman Air Park in Pacoima for safety reasons.

The move was spurred in part by an incident last month, in which the pilot of a Continental Airlines MD-80, a stretched version of the DC-9 jetliner, mistook the tiny county-owned airstrip for Burbank Airport. The pilot came within a few hundred feet of landing at Whiteman before the Burbank tower warned him to pull up.

A landing by the jetliner on the narrow, lightly paved runway probably would have ended in a disastrous crash, aircraft sources and Whiteman administrators said.

Commissioners of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority voted unanimously Monday to support a request by the county Board of Supervisors "to the Federal Aviation Administration that a control tower be constructed and operated at Whiteman at the earliest possible date."

Increase in Traffic Predicted

The resolution contended that "overall traffic within the San Fernando Valley will increase over the foreseeable future, thereby exacerbating the potential for conflicts with Whiteman airport uncontrolled traffic."

"The DC-9 incident was a gross error by the pilot," Commissioner Brian Bowman, who is also a private pilot, remarked later. "It was prevented by the Burbank tower, but would have been prevented earlier by a Whiteman tower."

Only about three miles separates the runways of the two airports. Whiteman, used mainly by small, private planes, is the only airport in the San Fernando Valley area without a control tower. The approach patterns to the two airports overlap, but pilots approaching Whiteman are supposed to remain below the traffic bound for Burbank.

The FAA has said in the past that an airport generally must handle about 200,000 takeoffs and landings a year before it is considered large enough for a control tower.

Whiteman has not reached that level, but it is up to more than 150,000, Bowman said. He said he believes that the FAA will grant the request because of the airport's location, saying the agency "is driven more by safety than by numbers." The tower probably would be staffed only part of the time, he said.

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