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
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
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
A contract should have been agreed upon, containing “do or die”
conditions tying federal grants directly to actions by the authority
and the involved cities, which would guarantee the construction of a
Lacking such a powerful incentive for action, all sense of urgency
was lost. That led to 25 years of fractious “purpose-and-oppose”
After the airport purchase was finalized, the FAA promptly went
back to sleep under its bureaucratic tree. However, during the years
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
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
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
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