Airport Panel Will Ask FAA to Clarify Requests

Times Staff Writer

The Burbank Airport Authority decided Monday to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to further explain a package of safety requests that the president of the authority has warned could close the airport.

Members of the authority voted unanimously at their regular meeting to ask the FAA for "clarification of the matters set forth" in a letter received 10 days ago.

In the letter, the FAA requested an immediate ban on jetliner takeoffs to the east from one of the airport's two runways. The letter also included a request for elimination of 1,400 of the airport's 3,200 auto parking spaces to create more room for airliners to load and unload passengers. The request poses serious financial problems for the airport, which takes a large portion of its income from parking fees.

The FAA also said it disapproves of any moves to increase commercial service until the authority submits a plan to replace the 55-year-old passenger terminal. The FAA warned the airport in 1980 that the terminal does not meet modern safety standards because it is too close to runways.

Robert W. Garcin, president of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, warned last week that the airport "is in danger of effectively terminating its activities" because of the difficulty of meeting the FAA requests.

Garcin said that Monday's action by the authority was not a move to stall for time, but an attempt to secure "clarification of ambiguous areas, and areas that are inconsistent with what we believed was FAA policy."

The objection to adding new airlines "appears to put a cap on services," which is contrary to the FAA's policy in the past, Garcin said.

The request for the airport authority to ban jetliner takeoffs to the east goes against the FAA's previous stance that the FAA and airline pilots have sole authority over flight operations, while airport operators control ground facilities, Garcin said.

"We don't have the authority to enact that kind of restriction," Garcin said. The authority will inform the FAA that it will enforce an FAA ban but cannot enact such a rule on its own, he said.

The ban on eastbound takeoffs is not in effect. However, airline pilots--who would have the final say on such a decision--rarely take off toward the east anyway, airport spokesman Victor Gill said. Fewer than 5% of airline takeoffs are eastbound.

At least 90% of commercial takeoffs are toward the south and on the other runway, which is 828 feet longer. That runway usually has more favorable wind and has a slight downhill slope toward the south, making it easier for a plane to reach takeoff speed.

The loss of the parking spaces would create a serious financial problem for Burbank Airport, which makes more money from passenger parking fees than it does from any other single source.

Last year, when revenues totalled $11 million, the airport took in more than $4.2 million in parking fees. By contrast, $1.5 million in landing fees were collected from airlines and $2.7 million was collected in rent from firms that do business on the airfield.

The parking spaces the FAA wants removed generated $1.7 million last year, the authority said.

In addition to aggravating a parking shortage, removal of the parking spaces would force the authority to recover the lost income from airlines that use the airport, Gill said. If an increase in fees caused the airlines to cancel flights at Burbank, "then we'd be left with more parking spaces for airliners, but no airliners to put on them," he said.

The FAA wants to convert the auto parking space to loading zones for jetliners so that passengers will be farther from the runways.

The FAA's major objection to the current Burbank Airport layout is the location of the terminal building. FAA regulations require a 750-foot safety zone between a terminal and the center line of the closest runway. At some points, the existing terminal is only 313 feet from the runway.

The airport has been operating on a waiver of the regulation, granted by the FAA on the condition that the authority build a new terminal.

A ruling by the Defense Department in December forced the airport authority to abandon plans, which had been under development for five years, to build a new terminal on land owned by Lockheed Corp. The federal government ruled that the site, on the east side of the airport, was too close to the "Skunk Works," where Lockheed engineers work on highly secret military projects.

Members of the airport authority said they hoped to have at least a preliminary study of new terminal sites under way within 30 days.

Dr. Ellis Jones, a member of the airport authority, said the letter to the FAA should try to clarify the authority's maneuvering room with "some simple sentence, like 'if we pick a terminal site pretty soon, will you guys back off?' "

The FAA action was one of two blows the airport suffered within a four-day period last month. The other was a Feb. 24 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, refusing to hear Burbank Airport's appeal of a decision by the California Supreme Court in a noise damage suit. Failure of the appeal raises the possibility of a stream of such damage suits against the airport.

Burbank Airport administrators and officials of other municipally owned airports are hoping the state Legislature will pass laws preventing further suits.

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