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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES

Wrong Ideas Imperil Airport Plan

March 23, 1997|COL. NORMAN G. EWERS, USMC (Ret.) | Norman G. Ewers lives in Irvine. He has many years of experience as a military pilot and in Orange County civilian aviation as an airport planner

Times readers who follow the debate over the proposed conversion of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to use as a civil airport know that Orange County planners plan to continue using Runway 07 as the "preferred" departure runway. That is, all departing aircraft will be required to take off to the northeast on this runway unless compelled to use some other runway because of weather or aircraft performance. They estimate that 70% of all takeoffs will be on Runway 07; the remaining 30%, principally long-haul and international departures, will be to the northwest on Runway 34.

Airport opponents, joined by the Airline Pilots Assn., have said that use of Runway 07 for departure will be unsafe because the planes will be taking off "uphill, downwind and into the mountains." Runway 07 isn't unsafe at all. Operational experience (I, myself, have taken off from that runway as the pilot of a Marine C130 transport plane), technical data and expert opinion all say that Runway 07 is perfectly safe for takeoff most of the time by most of the present civil air carrier fleet.

ALPA's objection to use of Runway 07 has more to do with "pilots' turf and pride" than it does with safety. The ALPA has a long history of vigorously opposing any outside attempt to usurp the authority of the airline captain. Several years ago, authorities at Los Angeles International Airport decreed that Runways 06 and 07 would be the "preferred" runways for late-night arrivals. During this period both arrivals and departures at LAX would be over the ocean. ALPA branded the procedure "unsafe" and gave LAX a "Black Star" safety rating. The procedure has, in practice, proved to be perfectly safe. But someone on the ground was intruding on the airline captain's "turf."

If airport opponents are sincere in their concerns about the safety of taking off to the northeast, they should be advocating departures in the opposite direction (on Runway 25). After all, these takeoffs would be "downhill, into the wind and away from the mountains." Unfortunately, airport opponents have it in their minds that Runway 25 departures would send "low flying jets screaming over noise-sensitive city of Irvine residential areas." This allegation, too, is not true. Aircraft taking off on Runway 25 at El Toro turn south soon after becoming airborne and climb out over mostly open agricultural land, crossing the coastline near Corona del Mar.

The federal government has presented Orange County a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to convert a community-compatible military jet base into a needed 21st century multimodal transportation center. It's too bad this chance is in danger of slipping away because of invalid assumptions by the county and misleading propaganda by airport opponents.

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