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Commentary

Spread Out L.A.'s Air Traffic

January 08, 2002|MICHAEL D. ANTONOVICH | Michael D. Antonovich is supervisor in the 5th District.

Forty years ago, Los Angeles city fathers realized that the proper way to deal with increased air travel would be to develop a system of regional airports instead of relying on one central location. This led the city to the purchase of land in Palmdale and Ontario on which to build airports that would help ease the overcrowding at Los Angeles International Airport, which they knew was bound to occur some- day.

That day has arrived.

But while the airport in Ontario is already open to commercial air traffic (although it is underutilized), Palmdale Regional Airport remains open only to private air traffic. Expanding Palmdale offers the best alternative to adding more capacity to the already dangerously overextended ground and air facilities at LAX--the only major airport serving the 10 million residents of county's 88 cities and unincorporated areas.

Expanding LAX to accommodate millions more passengers would multiply the already out-of-control amount of air and street traffic at LAX. Increased air traffic would mean additional safety concerns--currently, LAX ranks first in the nation in the amount of near-collisions.

Of course, LAX will have to grow, but with proper utilization of the county's two major regional airports, the growth will be smarter, better managed and have less impact.

Despite the need to expand at Palmdale, however, former Mayor Richard Riordan's administration focused its resources on expanding LAX. It ignored the option of expanding the Palmdale airport, claiming that the Antelope Valley, where Palmdale is located, would not be able to support such an expansion.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors initiated a market study on the viability of expanding the Palmdale airport. The study, conducted a year ago by Tri-Star Marketing Co., found that opening the airport to commercial air traffic would not only be viable but, when fully operational, could help the Antelope Valley economy to grow by nearly $65 million in annual revenue and provide an annual payroll of $6.7 million.

The recent election of James K. Hahn as mayor of Los Angeles and the appointment to the LAX commission of Ted Stein, who supports the expansion of regional airport facilities, mean that the idea of using other airports to handle some of the region's air traffic is once again being given serious consideration.

In August, Hahn told the LAX commission that he was committed to finding a regional approach to the area's need for expanded airports.

Detractors would have us believe that LAX can accommodate the 38 million new passengers projected by 2020. Yet they fail to explain how this will be accomplished at an facility that is landlocked within only 3,500 acres, making it the nation's smallest major airport.

Palmdale airport, by contrast, is surrounded by thousands of acres available for future expansion.

Hahn has called for further study of expansion of LAX and has said that any new dollars spent on the airport would go first toward addressing security concerns--not toward increasing its size.

Palmdale and Ontario airports are located in the heart of the fastest-growing areas in California and are convenient to 6.5 million people residing in the Antelope, Santa Clarita, San Fernando, San Gabriel and Pomona valleys as well as residents in Ventura, Kern, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties. More than 3 million people live closer to Palmdale than to LAX.

The regional plan would make LAX safer for airline traffic and would reduce vehicle traffic congestion and air pollution in heart of L.A. It would also contribute to a more convenient air travel system for all Los Angeles County residents.

These airports are each a part of an overall regional airport plan--not a replacement for LAX but a way to relieve pressure on an overburdened system and provide options to residents in the Los Angeles area.

After all, the city purchased these airports originally as part of a strategic plan to address growth. Yet they go woefully underutilized while local politicians spend precious city tax dollars trying to sell a failed expansion plan to area voters.

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