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Van Nuys Air Show Flies Into History

June 19, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

The annual air show at Van Nuys Airport, a popular San Fernando Valley tradition for more than four decades, is being grounded to make way for the construction of a new firefighting facility, officials said Friday.

The $33-million operations center, which will take up 13 acres, will make it impossible for the airport to continue holding the aerial extravaganza, officials said.

So instead of a weekend-long festival with vintage military jet flyovers, stunt pilot performances and other aerial acrobatics, the airport will hold a one-day community open house June 26 that will take place mostly on the ground.

The free event will feature nearly 50 civilian aircraft displays and a rare World War II-era B-17.

There will be only two flyovers, one in the morning by a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter squad and one at noon by a vintage P-51 Mustang and an A-10 fighter jet.

"What we're doing is downsizing the event," said Stacy Geere, spokeswoman for Van Nuys Airport. "We've lost a piece of property that was essential to putting on the traditional air show."

The land -- which had been used during the aviation expo for military aircraft parking, concession stands, first-aid station, grassy picnic area and emergency access road -- will be leased to the Los Angeles Fire Department so that it can triple the size of its operations at the airport.

Currently, the department has a one-story fire station, a small administration building and some trailers. Its six helicopters are parked outdoors.

The new facility, expected to be completed in about two years, will include a two-story fire station, larger administrative quarters and two hangars for helicopters and other firefighting aircraft.

A third hangar will be for police use.

"It's going to be state of the art," said Capt. Rex Vilaubi, spokesman for the Fire Department.

The expansion will improve the department's ability to fight brush fires, conduct rescues, provide medical airlifts and save lives, Vilaubi said. He added that it could also save money because equipment would be better protected and maintained. Money for construction comes from Proposition F, a voter-approved bond measure.

Area residents expressed mixed feelings about the demise of the air show, a family-oriented event that drew up to 300,000 spectators a year.

"It's unfortunate that the air show can't go on.... I'll miss the military flyovers," said Coby King, president of the airport's citizen advisory committee. "At the same time, the operational needs of the Fire Department [are] very important."

Don Schultz, president of Van Nuys Homeowners Assn., said that while he enjoyed the annual event, it also burdened surrounding neighborhoods with aircraft noise and traffic jams.

The aviation expo could be resurrected elsewhere in the future, Schultz said.

"Palmdale [Airport] can probably host a terrific air show," he said.

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