A controversial bid to open El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to civilian cargo planes was prompted in part by Federal Express, a company that would directly benefit from such a move, a key congressman said Wednesday.
Rep. Robert Carr (D-Mich.) acknowledged in an interview that Washington lobbyist Cliff Madison, whose clients include Federal Express, asked him to sponsor the congressional measure approved last December that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to study possible civilian use of El Toro. Carr's measure requires completion of the study by March 31.
"He indeed talked to me about joint use (of El Toro)," Carr said of Madison, who also represents the Southern California Rapid Transit District. But Carr said he would have acted on his own even if Madison had not approached him.
"It would be an inappropriate conclusion to draw that a particular potential user was responsible for inclusion of El Toro in the (FAA) study," Carr said. "Other potential users discussed that, too."
Declined to Name Others
Carr, a member of the House of Representatives' transportation appropriations subcommittee, said several airlines had talked to him about joint use at El Toro and other bases. He declined to name the air carriers involved.
The Pentagon strongly opposes joint use of El Toro.
Last month, FAA Administrator T. Allan McArtor--a former vice president of Federal Express--told The Times in an interview that use of El Toro and other military bases by cargo planes would help relieve a national shortage of "runway space."
Federal Express, the nation's largest small package airline, has run out of space at Los Angeles International Airport and is seeking a new lease there that would give the company a larger facility, said Clifton A. Moore, executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Airports. "They're growing, and they're planning for the future," Moore said.
Moore and Carr said Federal Express, among other carriers, would benefit from civilian use of El Toro. There is limited space available at Ontario International Airport, officials said, because that facility is dominated by United Parcel Service, which is Federal Express' top rival. Cargo carriers do not serve John Wayne Airport because of strict limits on airline flights, and a nighttime noise curfew.
Two congressional sources who requested anonymity said Wednesday that McArtor had given advance approval to Carr's measure requiring the FAA study of El Toro. But Carr insisted that he never discussed the study with the FAA chief.
McArtor, lobbyist Madison and Federal Express officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Until Wednesday, Carr had declined to return reporters' phone calls about the FAA study. His staff had merely said he was looking for ways to relieve overcrowding at several airports, possibly through joint use of El Toro, Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Detroit and Scott Air Force Base in southwestern Illinois, about 20 miles from St. Louis.
Carr, a pilot who has flown in the Los Angeles-Orange County area, acknowledged Wednesday that he deliberately declined to inform congressmen from the districts involved in the FAA joint-use study prior to congressional approval. Those House members--including Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach)--were caught by surprise and learned of the study only after Carr's measure had become law.
"It was one of the most outrageous acts by a colleague in all my years in Washington," Badham said after learning of the FAA study last month. He described Carr as "a raging liberal who wants to punish the military."
On Wednesday, Carr replied: "That's baloney. I seriously doubt that if Mr. Badham was doing something that adversely affected some of the people in my district, he would come in and sit down with me and let me try to talk him out of doing it. I don't for a minute think that would ever happen. We're all big boys here."
Carr said he has not prejudged the FAA study. "The FAA may conclude that El Toro has deficiencies. . . . But I think the military has a way of assigning roles and missions (sensitive tasks) based on political considerations, in order to protect what they have," he said.
Carr said he has advocated joint use of military bases since the 1970s, when he was a member of the House Armed Services Commission.
A previous FAA study of El Toro in 1983 did not specifically rule out joint use but cited several obstacles. In the 1983 study, the Marine Corps claimed that joint use would place civilians too close to fuel, bombs, ammunition and security-sensitive defense operations.
Pressure to find an alternate regional airport site to supplement John Wayne Airport and Los Angeles International Airport has been building for years. The City of Irvine, fearing duplication of the noise and traffic problems around John Wayne Airport, has attempted to block civilian use of El Toro.