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Burbank Floats Plan to End Fight Over Airport

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a surprise move aimed at ending a long, bitter dispute over the proposed expansion of Burbank Airport, city officials said Tuesday they would accept a slightly larger passenger terminal in return for a mandatory nighttime curfew and a 10% cap on additional flights.

Airport authorities reacted coolly to the offer, which comes after the city, which has spent close to $2 million in legal fees fighting the terminal plans, lost two recent decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA approval would be needed for the airport to limit flights.

The proposal, which city officials are calling the Burbank Airport 21st Century Plan, envisions a new terminal with 16 gates--two more than the current 14 but well below the 19 to 27 gates in the airport’s plans.

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It would support construction of a state-of-the-art passenger facility and tax-exempt financing for airport construction, as long as airport officials agree to items such as joint development of portions of the site not required for airport use.

The city proposal, which states that Burbank would support the airport in seeking any federal approvals required to control flights or noise, also calls for the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority--the airport’s governing body--to agree that the terms could not be changed without unanimous consent of all three cities.

Prepared independently of the Airport Authority, the proposal was signed by Burbank’s five council members and its three representatives on the nine-member authority.

“We think this plan is a responsible and realistic approach which can break the stalemate between the Airport Authority and the city over future development at the airport,” Mayor Bill Wiggins said at a City Hall news conference.

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But airport officials were noncommittal.

Joyce Streator, president of the Airport Authority and a Pasadena councilwoman, said she had not seen the proposal or even been briefed about its contents.

“I don’t know who they’re proposing it to. They certainly haven’t contacted me,” Streator said. “I’m confused by a press conference about a plan that hasn’t even been presented to us. . . . Maybe this is a good-faith effort. I don’t know.”

The FAA last week rejected the city’s efforts to get it to suspend an $8.6-million grant earmarked for the expansion project. Then, in a separate decision, the FAA approved the airport’s request to use $24.2 million in passenger fees toward buying land for the terminal from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Wiggins and other Burbank officials said the timing of the new proposal had nothing to do with any particular event. The city has wanted to resolve the passenger terminal dispute for a long time and end high legal costs, but Burbank officials themselves came to agreement on the details of the proposal only recently, officials said.

“The timing means nothing,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins and Councilman Ted McConkey said mediation efforts between representatives of the three cities and the airport fell apart months ago. The public announcement was made in an effort to inform residents about where the city of Burbank now stands on the issues, they said.

“We have made a good-faith proposal,” McConkey said. “We are sincere.”

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For many Burbank residents, the idea of a larger passenger terminal raises worries of increased noise, traffic and pollution.

But airport officials say the airport, now drawing about 5 million passengers a year, needs a new terminal to better handle demand and for safety.

The FAA long ago recommended moving the terminal, built in 1930, farther from the runways, saying it no longer meets modern safety requirements.

As for noise, the airport does not now have a curfew, but guidelines call for commercial airlines to keep the bulk of their flights between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

There are about half a dozen commercial departures scheduled between 6 and 7 a.m., with most leaving after 6:30 a.m. About the same number arrive after 10 p.m., including a 1:30 a.m. arrival from Las Vegas.

The airport recorded 184,543 takeoffs and landings in 1995, including 63,289 by commercial airliners, a number that has been increasing steadily in recent years.

Airport and city authorities said federal requirements mandate FAA approval prior to a local airport limiting operations.

According to Stephen H. Kaplan, a former general counsel to the federal Department of Transportation who is now advising Burbank officials, the city’s proposals regarding a “noise budget, a limitation on future growth at the airport, and a mandatory nighttime curfew” would require federal approval.

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Airport and city officials acknowledged that obtaining such an approval would be a lengthy process involving many players and hearings.

Thomas E. Greer, executive director at the airport, said the Burbank documents arrived at the airport Tuesday afternoon and had not yet been thoroughly reviewed.

“The Airport Authority does not intend to negotiate a settlement to those issues in the media,” Greer said. “This matter will be referred to staff and legal counsel and discussed by the Airport Authority in closed session.”

Streator said she hoped the proposal would truly help resolve the dispute.

“All I can hope is that they are sincere,” she said. “I have to see it. The commission would have to talk about it. Then we’d respond.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Burbank Airport Terminal

Citing safety concerns and the need to handle growing demand, the authority operating Burbank Airport hopes to build a new terminal (1) to replace the existing facility (2). Burbank officials, who have long opposed the terminal project, said Tuesday they would support a larger terminal if the authority agreed to restrictions on the airport’s operations.


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