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An Airport Windstorm

April 04, 1993

It is interesting to note the strident opposition to the construction of a new and much larger terminal at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport. The detractors include a number of Los Angeles City Council members, including Joel Wachs and Zev Yaroslavsky, and members of the state Assembly and Congress. A new terminal is fine, opponents say, but not one that is 670,000 square feet, or four times the size of the current facility. Moreover, according to Wachs, the airport ought to implement a "fair share" plan that would divert to the east--and away from his constituents--30% to 40% of the airport's takeoffs.

It's interesting because the economic benefits of airport expansion have never been more apparent. Consider Mayor Tom Bradley's praise, last September, of outgoing Los Angeles International Airport general manager Clifton A. Moore, whom he credited with helping to make LAX a major contributor to the city's economic vitality. LAX went from 19.3 million passengers in 1968 to more than 46 million, from 23 airlines to 100 and from 381,000 tons of freight to 1.3 million tons, adding billions of dollars and 400,000 jobs to the local economy.

It is interesting because the L.A. Board of Airport Commissioners just last month approved a plan for a 700,000-square-foot terminal at Ontario Airport in San Bernardino County, opening it to international arrivals from Mexico. These developments throw a considerable amount of cold water on the argument that Burbank Airport should not expand.

Nor has Burbank Airport been such a bad neighbor. In 1987, it was the first to demand and accomplish the shift to far quieter aircraft. It also has a 10 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew on flights, and the area around the airport that is exposed to excessive noise has shrunk by 95%. It could, however, be a better neighbor by considering the noise impact on communities that have had no relief and by soundproofing all severely affected schools.

But the "fair share" takeoff plan is grossly unrealistic. Although the location of the new Burbank terminal would allow large jets to resume eastward takeoffs on the airport's east-west runway, many safety factors would severely restrict this. The east-west runway is shorter, lacks a downward tilt that gives aircraft a speed boost and is close to the Verdugo Hills. Aircraft departing eastward on the east-west runway would often have a tail wind, and the stronger the tail wind the lighter the aircraft must be in order to make a safe takeoff. So much for the idea that large jets could take off to the east 30% to 40% of the time.

The Federal Aviation Administration still must approve the Burbank Airport plan, and there are other factors to consider, such as the significant impact on surrounding roads and the eventual question of just how large this airport should become. But a new and larger terminal ought to be strongly supported.

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