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El Toro Study Affirms Fears

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new El Toro aviation study conducted for the city of Irvine echoes a host of safety worries already raised by pilots groups and a representative for the nation’s air-traffic controllers union.

The $105,000 study by the nonprofit National Aviation Research Institute said its evaluation of the county’s plan for El Toro concluded that if the airport were built as designed, “there would be major safety concerns compounded on a daily basis.”

“Time and again, [the group’s review] has found that the plan ignores basic aviation rules and standards to promulgate airport use without regard to established safety standards,” the institute report said.

Moreover, adding El Toro traffic to already crowded Southern California airspace would result in significant delays, while planes leaving the airport to the north and east would be forced to carry less fuel, passengers and cargo to clear rising hills, the report said.

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Such significant obstacles to safe and efficient operations at the proposed airport indicate that the FAA is unlikely to approve the county’s El Toro plans, said George Carneal, an attorney with Hogan & Hartson, a law firm hired by Irvine to coordinate its anti-airport efforts in Washington.

If that happened, the city is worried that the county could renege on a promise made by the Board of Supervisors to bar takeoffs on a runway that would send planes directly over Irvine toward the coast, Carneal said. Western takeoffs are preferred by pilots groups and controllers for a host of safety and operational reasons.

The FAA has yet to comment on the county’s plans for El Toro, though it will prepare an environmental review by the end of the year. What runways the airport uses is the county’s decision, not the FAA’s, spokesman Mitch Barker said.

“There is nothing that obligates the airport sponsor to use every runway,” Barker said. “We will do our analysis on the county’s proposal.”

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County aviation consultants insist the airport plans are safe and that El Toro can be operated efficiently using the current design.

Irvine has fought western takeoffs since the airport was approved by voters in 1994. Orange County supervisors have voted twice to bar western departures from El Toro because of noise concerns; the closest homes to the north and east are several miles away.

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For more information about the airport debate, click onto The Times’ newly expanded Web site at https://www.latimes.com/eltoro. The site includes a comprehensive Measure F voter guide, special research sections, interactive bulletin boards, an insider column and the latest news.


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