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Civilian Cargo Use of Marine Air Base Is Urged : Would Allow More Commercial Jets at John Wayne Airport, FAA Head Says

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Federal Aviation Administrator T. Allan McArtor said Thursday that use of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station by civilian cargo planes should be seriously considered in order to allow additional commercial airline passenger flights at John Wayne Airport.

“I think that’s the most attractive scenario for El Toro,” McArtor said, “because those (cargo) planes would fly out of there maybe once or twice a day and would be the least disruptive to El Toro’s tactical mission.

“When we’re as short on airport capacity as we are in this country,” McArtor added, “you have to think of all sorts of ideas. . . .”

March 31 Deadline

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McArtor’s comments came less than two months after Congress ordered the FAA to study joint military-civilian use at three military bases, including El Toro, and report the findings by March 31.

The FAA administrator may be the highest-ranking federal official to support joint use of El Toro, at least conceptually. Still, changing the use of the base would require action by the Pentagon, Congress or the President.

McArtor said he is not prejudging the study’s conclusions but supports joint use of military airfields wherever feasible.

A similar FAA report in 1983 concluded that it was “technically infeasible” for commercial and military aircraft to jointly use the base, which is located between the City of Irvine and the Santa Ana Mountains.

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The new FAA study has been strongly criticized by Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), in whose district El Toro is located, and Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad). The Pentagon has long opposed any civilian use of El Toro, saying that its ability to train pilots and fly tactical missions would be seriously compromised by the presence of civilians and commercial aircraft.

McArtor said Thursday he does not know what the latest FAA study will find, but he added, “We’re not convinced that you can’t design a compatible system at most (military) airfields.”

He said that allowing commercial cargo planes owned by airlines such as Pan Am, Federal Express and others to use military bases such as El Toro could be justified because they are part of the so-called U.S. Civil Reserve Air Fleet, known as CRAF. In the event of a national emergency, the military has the authority to mobilize CRAF and convert commercial planes for military airlift duty to supplement the regular military airlift command.

McArtor said he did not know how many planes now using John Wayne Airport could be considered CRAF aircraft. John Wayne Airport officials were unavailable for comment.

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McArtor also said Thursday that the military could turn El Toro over to civilian use if a new state-of-the-art military airfield could be built to replace it.

High Costs Recognized

McArtor acknowledged that the cost of constructing a replacement base would be enormous but that it might be cheaper than building a new regional civilian airport.

A land swap might be possible to reduce the cost of a new military base, he said. “El Toro is often brought up as an example of that, but you’d have to find a place that wasn’t too far out of town for the Marines to go.”

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