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Wednesday, Sep 27, 2023

AIRPORT – City and FAA at Loggerheads over Burbank Airport

When Burbank Airport and the city of Burbank hammered out a compromise last August to allow development of a new air terminal, officials on both sides said the decades-long controversy was headed for resolution. But with the compromise now under fire from the airlines, political leaders and the Federal Aviation Administration, it’s clear the dispute is anything but over. Burbank officials are refusing to process the airport’s development plans until the FAA gives its nod to the compromise plan dubbed the “framework agreement.” But that approval is hampered because the agreement calls for nighttime closure of the air terminal, and the FAA is precluded by federal law from doing anything to impede air commerce. As the standoff between the city and FAA enters its fifth week, officials on both sides are asking the perennial question in Burbank: Will the outdated and overcrowded 1930s-era air terminal ever be replaced? “Absent some kind of commitment from the FAA, I don’t know that the city can move forward,” said Peter Kirsch, special counsel to the city of Burbank. “The FAA has made its view clear. Its tone has been critical if not outright hostile to the framework agreement.” The latest in the long-running airport flap is that officials from Burbank and the airport are waiting for an audience with FAA Administrator Jane Garvey before deciding if the airport agreement can be salvaged. “At this point, everyone’s got their day-timers out, and they’re trying to identify a date,” said Victor Gill, an airport spokesman. Burbank Mayor Stacey Murphy last month announced the city would suspend work on the development agreement for a new terminal and fired off an angry letter to the FAA after Garvey criticized the compromise in a letter to an area newspaper. In her letter, Garvey indicated parts of the expansion deal might violate federal law but didn’t specify which parts of the agreement might be problematic. Murphy and Burbank officials were angered because Garvey, during an earlier visit to Burbank, had urged the city and the airport to work together to find a compromise and then criticized the result. Garvey has yet to say specifically what’s wrong with the agreement. Paul Turk, an FAA spokesman, would say only that local governments can’t impose any regulations that might restrict air commerce. But he too declined to say specifically how the framework agreement may be at odds with the law. City and airport officials suspect Garvey is opposed to a provision in the agreement that calls for closure of the air terminal from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., a proposal that has come under vehement attack by the airline industry. “There’s no question the framework agreement violates federal law,” said Roger Cohen, managing director of government affairs for the Air Transport Association, an airlines industry group. “The nighttime shutdown of the air terminal is a de facto ban on night-time flights. And in no way, shape or form can you have any local agreement or ordinance that violates the letter of the law.” The city of Burbank for years has attempted to go through channels to win a nighttime ban on flights at the airport to satisfy residents concerned about aircraft noise. But federal regulations make it all but impossible to win such restrictions. Murphy said it will be costly for the city to process the airport’s development plan, which calls for a new 14-gate terminal more than 700 feet from the runway. So until the FAA is ready to commit to approving the compromise, it would be futile to proceed with the terminal plan. Still, the FAA isn’t the only hurdle the city and airport face in getting a new terminal. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Mission Hills, and Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn have raised objections to a provision in the agreement that calls for a ban on easterly takeoffs, which would make the airport quieter for some Burbank residents but increase noise for communities in Los Angeles, west and south of the airport. The airport, meanwhile, must begin construction on the new terminal by December or risk losing $84.5 million in funding that came from a $3-per-person ticket tax. Burbank political leaders are facing heat on the home front from critics who say the framework agreement gives away the city’s power to force the FAA to agree to flight restrictions before allowing a new terminal to go forward. A group called Restore Our Airport Rights, which is being headed by arch airport foe and former City Councilman Ted McConkey, has mounted a petition drive to force the council to limit any new air terminal to a bare-bones 200,000 square feet and impose curfews and caps on flights restrictions that just about everyone else agrees are outside the city’s scope of power. Burbank Mayor Murphy says it’s too early to tell if the airport expansion will move forward. “There are too many unanswered questions,” she said. “If I had answers to all these questions we wouldn’t have to meet with the FAA.”

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