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County to Let Company Run 5 Airports


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to turn management of the county's five airports--including the one in Compton--over to a private company for the next 20 years, despite pleas from pilots and county employees not to act hastily.

The 3-2 vote on Tuesday drew a groan from those who had come to the meeting to question the need for privatization, saying they feared it could lead to higher hangar rents and fuel rates.

"A major concern to us is what the new contract is going to cost us," said Wallace Goltry, a member of the pilots association at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.

A coalition of pilots associations had asked the supervisors for at least two more months to review the proposal and investigate alternatives. At a board meeting earlier this month, when the supervisors agreed instead to a two-week delay, the coalition presented a petition against privatization signed by 699 people.

But the majority of the supervisors said they could not ignore the profit involved in letting Comarco, an Anaheim-based defense contractor, manage the facilities in Compton, El Monte, La Verne, Pacoima and Lancaster, Under the contract approved Tuesday, the county stands to receive at least $2.8 million annually, about $500,000 more than it now earns operating the airports.

In the board's traditional liberal-conservative split, Supervisor Ed Edelman--long a critic of privatization largely because of its impact on county workers--joined Supervisor Kenneth Hahn in voting against the contract.

"I can't see why we are turning over this valuable asset to a private company," Edelman said, referring to the estimated $2.2 million the county now earns from the airports.

The contract with Comarco is subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration, because the airports have received federal funds. FAA spokesman Fred O'Donnell said agency attorneys in Los Angeles and Washington are reviewing the contract to ensure that agreements made by the county are followed by Comarco.

All five of the airports once were under private control but were purchased by the county between 1958 and 1970. Pilots maintain that, with few exceptions, the facilities have improved under county management, and they fear a private company will have to raise fees to maintain the same quality of service.

Richard Loomis, vice president of Comarco, said the company has no intention of raising fees, because that could drive business away. Instead, he said, new business would be sought, operations would be streamlined, and staffing would be cut by at least 10% through attrition from the current 55 employees.

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