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Noise Issue Clouding Safety at Airports : Local officials should question policies that may be cause for a high number of accidents

Local elected officials are expressing a heightened concern over the effects of airport noise. That has been encouraged, no doubt, by the continuing pleas of neighbors fed up with voluntary curfews, increased traffic and by tour operations. Now, the matter may lead to formal local requests for intervention by the Federal Aviation Administration.

We, however, are beginning to wonder why the sole focus always seems to be on noise.

By September, 1994, for example, the FAA had taken a long, hard look at helicopter and fixed-wing-plane air tour operators in Hawaii. They weren’t pleased by what they had found, and took the rare step of declaring an “urgent safety problem.” That led to a new set of flight regulations governing minimum flight altitudes and other matters.

What spurred the FAA to action were studies of 28 fatal and non-fatal accidents involving air tour carriers over a 13-year period.

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Well, there have been exactly 28 fatal aircraft accidents, non-fatal accidents and near misses in Los Angeles County since January, 1993. That’s not counting the aircraft that went down in Ventura, or Long Beach, or Orange County during the same 2 1/2-year period. We’re also excluding military and local government accidents and crashes. Most involved small planes.

These were flights in which Whiteman Airpark in Pacoima, Burbank Airport, Santa Monica Airport, Van Nuys Airport, Agua Dulce Airpark, and Fox Field were points of origin, destination or pit stops along the way. News accounts put the unofficial toll from these incidents at 29 fatalities, at least.

The latest: two dead on July 27 from an airplane crash at takeoff at Whiteman Airpark in Pacoima in which the pilot may have been practicing touch-and-goes. That means briefly touching down on the Tarmac before taking off again.

It also seems that the luck of Angelenos extends well beyond the fortunate timing of earthquakes. These planes and helicopters have come down on golf courses, vacant homes and garages, on freeways, streets and empty desert, causing minimal injury on the ground. But before you pat the pilots on the back, remember that human error caused many of these accidents.

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It all leads us to wonder why more local elected officials aren’t asking other types of questions. Is it wise, for example, to allow flying lessons to originate from densely populated areas, rather than more isolated air fields? Are touch-and-go practices reasonable under the same circumstances? What is the average standard of aircraft maintenance? How well-trained are the pilots?

Noise is hardly the sole reason here for healthy concern.


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