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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Taking Flight in Burbank

If you live anywhere near Burbank, the local airport may be your go-to air portal, especially if you want to keep your blood pressure down. Oh, sure, flights out of the airport – officially named the Hollywood Burbank Airport – are not always abundant or cheap, and the Great Depression-era terminal can be cramped and lacking concessionaires. But lots of travelers love it because it’s so convenient. There’s a reason why the Burbank airport gets four out of five stars on Yelp, much better than LAX’s two-and-a-half. And who doesn’t love those throwback ramps from the tarmac to the plane doors? Since each plane typically gets two ramps – one in the front and another in the back – you can get on and off much faster. But I wonder if that convenience and the terminal’s familiar smallness may work against the effort to rebuild the airport. If Burbank voters are asked this fall, as expected, to allow reconstruction of the terminal building, I fear they may be inclined to say, “No thanks. It’s fine the way it is.” As you may know, proponents want to build a replacement terminal at what used to be named the Bob Hope Airport largely because it was opened in 1930 – which was even before Hope was a household name. Proponents argue that the aged terminal doesn’t meet today’s earthquake design standards and is 250 feet from the centerline of the nearest runway, while current regulations call for a distance of at least 750 feet. The Federal Aviation Administration keeps approving the airport’s right to continue operating, but with the warning that the airport is out of compliance, said Mark Hardyment, the airport’s director of government and environmental affairs. The new terminal would be 355,000 square feet – 50 percent larger than the current building. That would allow bigger waiting rooms, more restrooms and restaurants and just more roominess. But you have to wonder how compelling those points may be to Burbank voters. For one thing, compliance issues make even accountants yawn. If you’re trying to make a sexy pitch that rivets the imagination, you should not use the phrase “FAA set-back regulations.” You can almost hear voters say, “Hey, it’s worked for 86 years.” For another thing, the whole idea of a bigger terminal could backfire. That’s because it could plant the idea, in the Burbank voter’s mind, that the airport could accommodate more flights in the future. A big, new, modern terminal would surely invite more use, right? That means more airplane noise, more pollution, more car traffic and more commerce around the airport. And that, in turn, could result in voters saying, “No thanks.” Proponents have taken this into consideration. They have cleverly taken steps to counter any notion that the bigger terminal will turn the quaint airfield into a big beehive, a busy air-mageddon. For one thing, the new terminal will have the same number of gates (14) and the same number of parking spaces (6,637). That should keep a lid on any meaningful expansion. Furthermore – and this is bureaucratic but important – the ballot measure would create a kind of Burbank veto. Since the airport is governed by an authority with three members each from the cities of Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank, Burbank now can get out-voted by the other two cities. But the ballot issue, called Measure B, would call for a supermajority of two votes from each of the three cities to pass certain measures. So, just thinking hypothetically, if Pasadena and Glendale voted unanimously to take action to invite more flights at the airport, all it would take to stop it would be “nay” votes from two of the three Burbank representatives. I warned you it was bureaucratic. But it is an important safeguard for Burbank residents – and they are the ones who have to live next to the airport. In full disclosure, I voted, along with the other board members of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, to support Measure B. I think a new terminal would provide a meaningful improvement to Valley-area businesses and residents. Importantly, it would be much safer, and the new terminal would be even more convenient. And Burbank will have veto protections. Oh, and Hardyment assured me that the new terminal would continue to be jetway-free. So we’d still have those throwback ramps that go to the front and the back of the planes. Who doesn’t love that? Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@sfvbj.com.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.

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