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It's FAA's Call: Game Flyovers Are Ruled Safe

Major League Baseball and some security experts object to waivers allowing banner planes over World Series games.

October 18, 2002|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Banner-towing planes are scheduled to fly over Edison International Field during the World Series despite opposition by Major League Baseball and local authorities worried about safety risks.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which instituted a temporary ban on the planes above sporting events and large gatherings for the anniversary of Sept. 11, began granting waivers a few weeks ago at major events, including the baseball championships.

Federal officials said they do not believe planes pose a terrorist threat.

But as baseball officials and local authorities scramble to create a security plan for the high-profile event -- both on the ground and in the air -- some are questioning the wisdom of allowing the exemptions.

"Our position for security would be to get a flight restriction for everybody except emergency [aircraft]," Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez said.

Some outside experts also expressed puzzlement at the FAA's decision.

"Frankly, I'm kind of surprised," said aviation safety expert Rick Charles. "We're under some unusual conditions, and unusual measures are called for. I think the FAA is ... pretty much succumbing to local commercial interests."

Already, the planes have been spotted throughout the Angels' playoff games, advertising hot tubs, Hondas and more. Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. got in on the act, with this banner: "Vote Bill Simon for Governor! Go Angels!"

Major League Baseball officials were hoping the waivers would be reconsidered for the World Series.

"This is about safety, of course," said Kevin Hallinan, MLB's senior vice president of security. "We're continuing our conversations and dialogue to see if there is a middle ground here that would allow us to cut back on those flyovers, particularly when the game begins."

This season, a small plane made an emergency landing in the Edison Field parking lot. The pilot and passenger were unhurt, but the pilot had experienced mechanical difficulties, cut away the commercial banner, touched down in the lot, then crashed through a brick retaining wall at the stadium.

The crash, which occurred a few hours before the Angels game, highlights the potential safety threat for a stadium packed with 45,000 people and a parking lot jammed with cars, Hallinan said.

Representatives for pilots of small planes said the real issue might have to do with Major League Baseball trying to control advertising.

Banners, for example, cost about $500 for 30 minutes of flying time around the stadium, a fraction of the cost of in-park billboards, said Tom King, president of the Southern California Aerial Advertisers Assn.

"Banner towers are not a security risk," King said. "If somebody wanted to bomb the stadium with a small airplane, he would be able to do so anyway."

Baseball's traveling specialized security force -- a team of city police officers from around the country with experience working major-league events -- will be on alert for suspicious people and packages. They will complement the hundreds of Anaheim police officers and private security guards who will staff the Anaheim games, Hallinan said.

Hallinan and his crew will sweep the stadium before each game and secure the ballpark's perimeter. Delivery trucks will be scrutinized and searched. Cars will be kept a safe distance from Edison Field, and no bags larger than 14 by 14 by 6 inches will be allowed inside. Smaller bags will be searched at the gate. In late innings, security will ring the field to keep fans in their seats, said John Drum, director of operations for the Angels.

"The bottom line is it's another baseball game, but everyone in the United States and all across the world can watch this game," Drum said.

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