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El Segundo Spells Out Its LAX Gripe

Times Staff Writer

You’re a passenger in an airliner that has just lifted off from Los Angeles International Airport. And maybe you’re a Nervous Nellie. Flying isn’t your cup of tea.

As the jet soars upward and arches over El Segundo, you look out a window and see these words scrawled on the ground: “Unsafe Area for Jets.”

Unsettling?

EL Segundo officials are betting it will be--not only for passengers, but for errant pilots who snub LAX policy and turn their noisy aircraft inland and over the city before reaching the coastline.

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On Tuesday, council members, by a 3-2 vote, agreed to spend $4,500 to buy enough white decorative rock to spell out the message in 12-foot letters. The letters will be laid out on a piece of city-owned property across the street from LAX and visible from the air.

The council, however, instructed city employees not to install the letters until Nov. 7. The deadline will give the city of Los Angeles Department of Airports one last chance to sit down with El Segundo city officials and find a solution to the problem, Councilman Jim Clutter said.

“The intent of the sign is to make the public nervous,” Clutter said, “so that the airlines who are sensitive to the issue will put pressure on the airport to do something.”

‘Very Sophomoric’

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Dick Russell, a jumbo-jet pilot who serves as the Los Angeles spokesman for the Airline Pilot’s Assn., said El Segundo’s decision to install the sign “sounds like a high school or college prank, very sophomoric.”

Clutter said that the city has been besieged for years by pilots who disobey the airport’s noise abatement policy and turn their aircraft over the city. At least 20 aircraft each day make early turns, Clutter estimated, rattling windows as well as the nerves of residents.

Despite the city’s pleas to LAX and Federal Aviation Administration officials to intervene, Clutter said, nothing has been done. “They are always pointing figures at each other,” Clutter said.

Ted Davies, the FAA’s control tower chief at LAX, said the agency instructs pilots to avoid early turns. In response to complaints, he said, the FAA in August sent a letter to airlines asking that their pilots not begin their turns until they had passed a navigational aid installed near the shoreline. Previously, the FAA had asked pilots not to begin their turns until they had at least reached the aid, he said.

Davies said he is sympathetic to those bothered by aircraft noise. “I sit in the office and hear it everyday,” he said.

Clifton Moore, the Department of Airports executive director, said the department is willing to sit down with the city.

Lighted Signs in Place

The department has already placed large, lighted signs on its two south runways--those closest to El Segundo--instructing pilots: “After Takeoff No Turn Before Coastline.”

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Despite that, Moore pointed out that the department has no authority to order pilots to do anything once they have taken off from LAX. That power rests with FAA officials in the control tower.

Although pilots make every effort to avoid early turns, a few may occur from time to time, Russell said. The turns are probably the result of a pilot attempting to avoid wind turbulence created by an aircraft that took off ahead of him, or other winds that cause his aircraft to “drift” slightly before it reaches the ocean, he said.

“We have bent over backwards and are doing everything we possibly can” to make sure early turns do not occur, Russell said.

Although Clutter said that he is convinced the city is doing the right thing, Councilman Alan West, who along with Councilman Bob Anderson voted against buying the rocks, is not. The city should continue pressing its concerns to the appropriate people until they listen, he said.

“We got to get somebody’s ear sooner or later,” West said. “I even wonder if doing ridiculous things like this might slow down our chances.

“Right now, I feel embarrassed,” West added. “I guess that’s the best way to put it.”


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