An air traffic control tower will begin operating Oct. 1 at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima after two years of lobbying by Los Angeles County officials concerned about the airport’s proximity to other San Fernando Valley airports.
With the sound of engines from small airplanes roaring behind him, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) made the announcement Saturday on the airport’s Tarmac before a crowd of about two dozen, including pilots and passengers.
Air traffic from nearby Burbank and Van Nuys airports has made the tower at Whiteman a necessity, Wilson said at a news conference with Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
In the past, the Federal Aviation Administration had contended that Whiteman is not busy enough to warrant a tower. Wilson and Kassebaum led a drive for Congress to appropriate the $693,000 for the tower despite the FAA’s resistance.
The tower will “greatly enhance the safety of this airport,” Wilson said. Whiteman is within 3 miles of Burbank Airport and about 6 miles from Van Nuys Airport.
Wilson referred to two incidents over Whiteman’s airspace that he said demonstrated the need for a tower at the airport, which last year had 139,180 takeoffs and landings of small airplanes or “general aviation” aircraft. The FAA recommends a control tower if at least 200,000 yearly takeoffs and landings occur.
In December, 1986, the crew of a Continental Airlines MD-80 jetliner nearly mistook a runway at Whiteman for one at Burbank Airport, but the control tower at Burbank warned the plane off. Officials said a crash probably would have resulted had the plane tried to land on the narrow, lightly paved Whiteman runway.
“If there had been a tower here at that time, that could have been averted,” Wilson said.
The second incident, which Wilson called a “near tragedy,” took place a week later when a commercial jet passing over Whiteman dropped to 800 feet to avoid a collision. The airliner’s sharp descent brought it into airspace where pilots of small aircraft approach and take off from Whiteman. Commercial airliners approaching Burbank Airport normally fly at 2,000 feet while passing over Whiteman.
The news conference was marked by an exchange between Wilson and pilot Frank Kromka, 39, of Arcadia. Kromka pointedly told the senator that the tower is unnecessary.
Kromka said later that pilots’ freedom is “being disparaged little by little. More and more things are being imposed on us by the government.”
Earlier in the news conference, Kassebaum, who chairs the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, said: “I know some of you don’t support it . . . but I think it will mean enormous benefits.”
The Kansas senator said in an interview that the FAA’s resistance to the Whiteman tower was related to the tight-fisted budget policy of the Reagan Administration.
“This is the reason I support an independent FAA,” she said. The agency is an arm of the federal Department of Transportation.
Funding for the Whiteman tower is being drawn from the Aviation Trust Fund, a federally controlled surplus that Kassebaum said is at more than $4 billion. The fund is supplied partly by a surcharge on airline passenger tickets and a fuel tax on general aviation flights.