SPOTLIGHT/Woodard/28″/LK1st/mike2nd SNAPSHOT Van Nuys Airport Year Founded: 1928 Origins: A group of businessmen developed what was then called Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport in an old orchard. The venture went bust, but the new operator, Dean Daily, was able to make ends meet by opening the airport up as a film location. World War II caused the airport’s fortunes to soar, but Daily lost control when the government confiscated the operation. Ultimately, control was turned over to the city of Los Angeles. By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter For years, the 140 or so aircraft maintenance firms, charter services, flight schools and other companies based at Van Nuys Airport were a loose-knit group, too busy competing against each other to join forces. But that began to change in October 1997, when the Los Angeles Airport Commission recommended adoption of an ordinance to limit Stage 2 jets, the older, noisier planes that comprise about half the jets based at the airport. Concerned that such an ordinance could devastate them, the airport’s business community convinced L.A. city officials to delay imposing the law until the economic implications could be studied. Now, armed with a new study that estimates the potential loss would total up to $190 million over three years if the law were imposed, aviation interests, through the Van Nuys Airport Association, have launched a new offensive aimed at killing the proposed ordinance. The association has enlisted the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), the Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce and the National Business Aviation Association, a group representing corporate flyers, in its fight. “Collectively, we have 3,400 employees at the airport. If we were one company, we’d be the third- or fourth-largest employer in the San Fernando Valley,” said Jim Dunn, president of the Van Nuys Airport Association. “We’ve had it with all the things making our lives more difficult, and now we’re doing something about it.” Nearby homeowner and anti-noise activist Gerald Silver said he has seen signs that the business community is stepping up its attack on the proposed ordinance. VICA and other business leaders have increased efforts to speak out publicly against the proposal, and they’re lobbying local elected leaders to kill it. Meanwhile, Los Angeles World Airports, formerly the city’s Department of Airports, recently mailed out 30,000 newsletters that Silver calls a promotional stunt, though airport administrators say they simply provide news on the airport. “The spring offensive is coming up,” said Silver, who is prepared to meet the advance. From its humble beginnings as a small airstrip developed by a group of businessmen in the 1920s, Van Nuys Airport has grown into the busiest general aviation airport in the world, with an estimated 500,000 takeoffs and landings per year. The airport and its 577 prop planes, 129 corporate jets and 52 helicopters supports a cottage industry of aircraft maintenance operations, flight schools and other support services, as well as a hotel. An estimated 3,400 people are directly employed by businesses at the airport, which generate $329 million in annual sales and provide airport-related services nearby. With the so-called multiplier effect taken into account, the airport contributes $941 million annually to the San Fernando Valley economy, according to a 1992 economic impact study by the city’s airports department. But along with the economic prosperity comes aircraft noise. Silver and others say the racket, especially from older corporate jets, is unacceptable. He and his fellow activists nearly won adoption of the noise-reduction ordinance, which would prohibit the airport from replacing Stage 2 jets as they are retired or moved to other airports. Silver and his group came close to victory until aviation interests convinced a City Council subcommittee to call for the economic study. The study, conducted by New Jersey-based consulting firm Airport Corp. of America, found an unexpectedly large turnover of aircraft based at Van Nuys. From 1995 to 1997, 34 out of 51 Stage 2 jets left their base at Van Nuys and were replaced by 36 other Stage 2 aircraft. If the proposed ordinance had been in place, their replacement would have been prohibited, and the study estimated the potential economic loss at up to 565 jobs and $190 million. Silver criticized the report as biased in favor of the airport and flawed for failing to consider the negative economic impact of noise in the surrounding community. “Business thrives where it has a thriving residential and retail base,” he said. “When business takes a short-sighted view and drives out residents, it hurts business in the long run.” But Dunn and others defended the consultant’s findings. “It boils down to no aircraft, no jobs, and that affects my business too,” said Dunn, who owns the Airtel Plaza Hotel adjacent to the airport’s runways. The airport receives about 900 noise complaints a year, and 85 percent of those are from just a handful of people, said Dunn. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Woodland Hills, believes that the 900 complaints are not reflective of a much broader discontent with airport noise. Most residents have concluded that complaining to the airport won’t do any good, he said. A survey that Sherman’s office conducted received 4,400 responses, with the bulk of the respondents saying they think the airport is too noisy. “Very few people need a corporate jet, but a whole lot of people need peace and quiet,” he said. Dunn said that even if the older corporate jets are phased out at Van Nuys, the owners of those aircraft will simply move to Burbank Airport. The noise would simply move to a different part of the Valley, but Van Nuys would suffer the economic loss. Byron Smith, a contract pilot who flies jets for Litton Industries and other corporations with jets based at the airport, agreed with Dunn. “To me and to about 5,000 other people around here, that jet noise is the sound of a paycheck,” Smith said. Smith, former director of operations for the Air National Guard unit that was stationed at Van Nuys, said he and other pilots take precautions to limit jet noise. Under the “Fly Friendly” program at the airport, pilots are encouraged to limit the power they use on takeoffs and landings. Also, a curfew is in effect that prohibits Stage 2 aircraft from landing or taking off between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless it is an emergency. Bob Rodine, who has fought the proposed ordinance as a board member of both the Mid Valley Chamber and VICA, said the city is taking other steps to improve the situation, including setting aside funding to soundproof homes around the airport and to build a so-called “Hush House” in which jet engines can be tested without as much noise impact on neighbors. Bonny Herman, executive director of VICA, said with those steps the airport can greatly reduce its noise impact on the surrounding communities. Meanwhile, she said, VICA will continue its push to have the proposed ordinance killed. “We’re talking to our elected leaders every chance we get,” said Herman. “We hope this will come to a head soon because the airport needs to get this out of the way.” Observers agree there is one thing that may work in the airport’s favor: Three of the original airport commission board members who voted for the proposal have been replaced by appointees of Mayor Richard Riordan, who at one time had a Stage 2 jet based at Van Nuys.