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Fund Bill Before Reagan Includes Whiteman Tower

December 23, 1987|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Times Staff Writer

Money to install a temporary control tower at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, and instructions to begin planning a permanent one, have been included in an appropriations bill that Congress approved Tuesday and sent to President Reagan.

Pressure to construct a tower at Whiteman, a Los Angeles County-owned airstrip primarily used by pilots of privately owned light planes, began growing last year when local officials became worried about the facility's proximity to Burbank and Van Nuys airports.

The mobile control tower, which will function just like a permanent one, will resemble a glass trailer on a platform, said Elly Brekke, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

Brekke said she did not know how much money has been set aside for the tower or how many controllers will work there.

The spending bill also instructs the FAA to begin plans to finance and construct a permanent tower at Whiteman, the only airport in the San Fernando Valley where pilots land without help from controllers using radar.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the

Burbank Airport Authority and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) had urged the FAA to install a control tower at Whiteman, despite the agency's contention that the airfield's low volume of traffic does not merit one. The FAA ordinarily requires about 200,000 takeoffs and landings a year to justify a tower, and Whiteman fell about 50,000 short of that.

However, local officials argued that the traffic level is irrelevant, because Whiteman is only 3.8 miles from Burbank Airport, with its commercial jet traffic, and five miles from Van Nuys Airport, the busiest general aviation facility in the nation. They said a control tower might avert a mid-air catastrophe like the one in 1986 that took 82 lives in Cerritos when a small plane collided with a jetliner headed for Los Angeles International Airport.

In June, FAA officials reconsidered and announced that the agency would seek funds for the tower.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich praised Tuesday's congressional action as "a major step toward improved air safety in the San Fernando Valley." Berman called it a good example of how local and federal government can work together.

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