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FAA bears much of the blame

I was intrigued by the headline in the May 7 edition of the Burbank

Leader, “FAA tells airport to return money.”

It struck me that the Federal Aviation Administration (alias Rip

Van Winkle) has finally awakened from its 25-year sleep to discover

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that things at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport aren’t what it

expected they would be.

To recap: Back in 1978, the FAA made a $32-million grant, making

it possible for the newly formed Airport Authority to purchase the

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airport. And among other things it verbally cautioned as a condition

of the grant, it said immediate action should be undertaken on the

part of the authority to develop plans to relocate the terminal.

This request was prompted by the close proximity of the terminal

to existing runways -- acknowledged by all to be a major hazard.

Unfortunately, this verbal mandate was never reduced to strict

contractual language.

A contract should have been agreed upon, containing “do or die”

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conditions tying federal grants directly to actions by the authority

and the involved cities, which would guarantee the construction of a

new terminal.

Lacking such a powerful incentive for action, all sense of urgency

was lost. That led to 25 years of fractious “purpose-and-oppose”

episodes.

After the airport purchase was finalized, the FAA promptly went

back to sleep under its bureaucratic tree. However, during the years

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that followed, additional federal grants were made to the authority.

Their purpose was to ensure the eventual relocation and construction

of a new terminal building complex.

FAA surveillance as to exactly how this trail of cash grants would

lead to that end objective was weak at best. Throughout the years,

the FAA displayed minimal interest in becoming involved in the

contentious issues surrounding terminal construction plans and public

rejections.

From the start, the FAA should have recognized the unique

situation surrounding the purchase of the airport. Here was a

facility that had been under private ownership and operation for 48

years was suddenly being transferred to a newly created public

authority that totally lacked prior airport management experience.

The FAA should have joined in a paternalistic oversight effort

with the authority, and jointly participated in resolving some of the

major problems related to the future viability of the airport.

Had it done so, the conflicts surrounding airport plans and public

acceptance could have had a far better chance of resolution, and

local citizens might be enjoying a new terminal, which all parties

would find mutually compatible to their respective wishes.

The newly awakened FAA has finally realized, after all these

years, that it must take whip in hand and demand strict and timely

compliance to its stated objectives as a condition of its bountiful

cash grants.

Now, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and her keen-eyed associates

are, in effect, blaming the authority and others involved for its

failure to initiate timely action to relocate the terminal. And as a

consequence, is demanding the return of $40 million within a scant

30-day period.

When it comes to blame, I suggest the FAA administrators take a

long and searching look in the mirror. They might be surprised at

what they see.

David M. Simmons

Burbank


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