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FAA Orders Burbank to Repay Funds

May 06, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Fed up with the perpetual indecision over a new terminal at Burbank Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration's top official ordered the airfield's commissioners to come up with a plan within 30 days to repay more than $40 million.

The federal money -- used by the airfield to buy land for a new terminal that has yet to be built -- "cannot continue to lie fallow," wrote FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey in a letter received Monday by the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.

Failure by the airport to respond, Blakey warned, "could lead the FAA to take action" to recover its money, including withholding federal funds.

Airport commissioners, who may be facing a $4.5-million gap in their budget for the next fiscal year because of plummeting parking revenues and rising security costs, are wringing their hands over the FAA's latest ultimatum.

The airport has less than $40 million in its reserves, which may shrink further to close the budget gap. The authority will hold a special meeting next Monday to discuss its options.

"This is a process that has gone on for years and years and years, and there are no simple answers," said Charles Lombardo, vice president of the authority.

"We are between a rock and a hard place," authority President Chris Holden said.

In 1999, the airport bought land for a new terminal with the federal funds. Although commissioners can raise money by selling the parcel, some are reluctant to do so because there is no other available site for a new facility. Burbank's current terminal is more than 70 years old and its proximity to the runways violates modern aviation safety standards.

But others believe the authority may as well scuttle future plans for a new terminal.

"We should sell the land," Commissioner John Crowley said. The airport already has invested more than $30 million since last year for security upgrades to the existing terminal, he said, and abandoning that for a new site would be wasteful.

About 2 1/2 months ago, Blakey told a delegation of officials from Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena that they needed to develop a plan within 60 days to build a terminal, or the FAA would demand the return of up to $43 million in grant money and passenger fees that the airport has collected. The terminal project has been discussed for more than 20 years but has been plagued by litigation and voter opposition.

Last month, Holden sent Blakey a letter asking for more time.

Blakey said the FAA would support a new terminal if the project has been approved and there are plans for construction.

But Burbank voters, who have veto power, have said they would not permit a new terminal without nighttime curfews on flights. The FAA, however, will not approve curfews unless the airport submits a cost-benefit study, which won't be completed for more than a year.

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