For years, Burbank Airport officials and residents bickered over a mandatory overnight curfew on commercial flights.
Homeowner groups and the city of Burbank demanded it--while the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority insisted it could not impose a curfew without a lengthy study and Federal Aviation Administration approval.
But the tentative accord for a new terminal reached by airport and city negotiators last week neatly sidesteps the issue. The deal calls for the terminal to be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.--effectively imposing a curfew, albeit one that would be enforced in the passenger concourses and not on the runways.
The airline industry's trade group--the Air Transport Assn.--is questioning whether such a backdoor curfew can be imposed without FAA approval. FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said the agency would have no immediate comment on the terminal lock-down, but airport authority officials say they are optimistic the gambit will fly.
"The terminal has been closed at night in the past," said Charles Lombardo, a Burbank representative on the authority. "We are merely trying to make this permanent and we hope the FAA and federal officials recognize that this is reasonable answer to the curfew question."
Those familiar with noise mitigation efforts say closing the terminal to curb noise may be unprecedented. And if it catches on, the idea could spread to other communities looking to limit nighttime flights.
"It is unique in my experience for an airport to try and impose an operational curfew by denying airline access to the passengers by denying passengers access to the gates," said Mike Gatzky, an attorney representing John Wayne Airport in Orange County and other airports nationwide.
Airport and city officials acknowledge that the idea faces an uncertain future, in part because of potential legal challenges, compliance by airlines and enforcement.
The Air Transport Assn. is withholding judgment on the terminal closure provision until it has more time to study the draft plan for the new terminal, said the group's Western regional director, Neil Bennett.
Even so, Bennett said last week that such a terminal closure would require FAA approval.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that local governments could not interfere with airport safety or operations, a field reserved to the FAA. In 1990, Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act, which set up rigid criteria for municipalities attempting to pass noise restrictions on airline traffic.
Peter Kirsch, special counsel for the city of Burbank on airport issues, said negotiators were aware that airliners could face circumstances in which they would have to use the facility after hours.
"We certainly intend to have an exception for emergencies and other unforeseen circumstances such as mechanical difficulties and weather delays," he said.
Still, Kirsch said any costs for reopening the terminal--which he said would be substantial--would have to be borne by the airlines, which he said would discourage abuse of the emergency waiver.
The airport has had a voluntary overnight curfew for years, but with no penalties for violation.
Not everyone believes that the terminal closure will be an effective noise-fighter. Ted McConkey, a former Burbank city councilman, said that barring flights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. will force more flights into the other late-night and early morning hours.
"Closing the terminal is not going to do anything and I'm convinced it will only make things worse," McConkey said.
"The airlines have plenty of time between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. to get lots of passengers on and off their planes. It won't do anything to stop the early morning or late night flights nor will it discourage the nosier general aviation planes."
Even so, adoption of the terminal plan is one of the key conditions demanded by Burbank under a tentative accord for construction of a 14-gate, 330,000-square-foot replacement terminal. The current facility dates back to 1930 and is too close to the east-west runway by modern safety standards.
The terminal expansion deal must be approved by the Burbank City Council. The tentative plan would allow expanding the terminal to 430,000 square feet and 19 gates if additional conditions are met, including FAA approval of a mandatory flight curfew and a limit on the number of annual passengers.
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Preparing for Takeoff
Negotiators for the city of Burbank and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority reached a tentative agreement Wednesday on a new terminal to replace the current facility, which dates to 1930. The new terminal--which must still be approved by the Burbank City Council--would be built in three phases. The first phase includes construction of a 330,000-square-foot terminal with 14 gates and 5,000 parking spaces. It could be expanded to 430,000 square feet, with 19 gates and 8,000 parking spaces, contingent upon reduction of noise levels and adoption of a flight curfew and cap on the number of annual passengers.
Source: Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport; Researched by ROGER KUO / Los Angeles Times