No ‘Over and Out’ for Air Tower
In humming Southern California, the traffic in the sky can look a lot like the traffic on the freeways. Airports dot the region and a variety of aircraft, from small Pipers to mammoth Boeing 747s, crisscross the skies.
No wonder then that there is concern that one branch or another of the military will somehow drop the ball and spark the closure of the air traffic control tower at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center airport.
Los Alamitos long has been overshadowed by Orange County’s two big Marine Corps air stations, at Tustin and El Toro. But the Marines are ready to shut down both fields, leaving Los Alamitos Army Airfield as the sole military airport in the county.
The Army proposes to stop funding the 14 air traffic controller positions at the tower next year. It wants the National Guard to pick up the cost. That sounds reasonable because the Guard operates the base. But the Guard says it cannot afford the $1 million a year to keep the controllers on the job.
What’s important to those who live anywhere near the base and those who fly over it is that the tower keep operating. Military officials must recognize the urgency of working out who will pay.
Airfield officials say the controllers in the tower supervise more than 120,000 fixed-wing and helicopter flights each year. About 40,000 of those flights touch down at or depart from the base. Most of the others are civilian flights, bound to or from John Wayne, Fullerton and Long Beach airports but traveling through Los Alamitos’ airspace.
Los Alamitos’ prime function is to train reservists, the “weekend warriors” who can be summoned to active duty to help with riot control, outbreaks of fires or killings in Bosnia. The base also serves as a nerve center for regional disasters, be it the Los Angeles riots or flooding. Crews were deployed from the base to help fight the Laguna Beach fires and assist in recovery efforts after the Northridge earthquake in 1994.
Authorities at the nearby civilian airports are lobbying the Army and National Guard to guarantee the tower remains open as long as the airfield operates.
Los Alamitos’ mayor met in May with National Guard officials in Sacramento to plead for Guard funds for the tower. This is a safety issue. The lobbying effort should extend to Washington and continue until one or another branch of the Defense Department agrees that the tower will stay open.