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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Pilots Union Challenges FAA Statement on El Toro Safety

November 25, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — The nation's largest union of airline pilots is challenging a Federal Aviation Administration position that flights can operate safely from a planned county airport at the vacant El Toro Marine base.

Officials with the Virginia-based Air Line Pilots Assn. International are demanding that a ranking FAA official justify his conclusions that the county plans for an airport at El Toro, particularly takeoff patterns, are safe.

Hermann Bliss, the FAA's manager of airports for the Western Pacific region, said in an Oct. 30 letter to Supervisor Tom Wilson that the county airport could be operated safely, despite concerns raised by pilots' groups and air traffic controllers. Bliss dismissed an analysis completed in May by an FAA consultant which concluded that planes leaving El Toro couldn't take off safely to the north because the skies are too crowded.

"For them to say this is not a big deal is crazy," Jon Russell, the pilots union's regional safety chairman, said Friday. "Northbound departures will create havoc."

FAA officials have declined to comment specifically on the agency's analysis of the county's airport plans, saying its final recommendations won't be released until March.

County officials, meanwhile, are headed to Washington, D.C., next week to find out why the Department of the Navy has fallen 18 months behind schedule on environmental documents for El Toro. The documents, which won't be completed until April, are critical because they must be finished before the base can be handed over to the county.

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