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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

Sequester Sends Local Airports Out of Control

Airports serving the San Fernando and Antelope valleys and Ventura County are in danger of having their control towers closed due to mandatory federal budget cuts. Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, General William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, Camarillo Airport, and U.S. Air Force Plant 42/Palmdale Regional Airport are among the 23 airports in California on a preliminary list compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration for control tower closures. A final list is expected to be released this week and the closures will take place in early April. The action by the FAA is part of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect March 1. The cuts will total $1.2 trillion over 10 years and are divided between defense spending and discretionary federal spending. None of the airfields cited for tower closures have commercial flights, but they cater to corporate planes, private aircraft, crop dusters and fire tankers that collectively have an economic impact in the region. Most of the towers selected to close are operated by private companies. Todd McNamee, director of airports for Ventura County, explained the closure’s consequences in a March 12 letter to FAA executives. The letter said that the airspace of the Los Angeles basin would lack coordination if the towers closed. That lack of coordination would create inefficiencies because of the high volume of commercial air traffic handled by Los Angeles International Airport, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Long Beach Airport, LA/Ontario International Airport and John Wayne Airport. Those five airports handle 85 million passengers annually. “All of these airports provide access to the national airspace system and contribute to interstate commerce,” the letter stated. “Creating severe inefficiencies by closing the towers will have a negative impact on that economic benefit.” Steve Irving, manager at Fox Field, anticipates that if the tower there closes it will have a significant impact on the traffic flow creating a safety concern because of how much flight training happens at the airfield. Add in the bulky U.S. Forest Service tankers based at Fox Field and the runway becomes quite busy. “It can be chaotic when those aircraft are operating,” Irving said. The county has lobbied federal legislators, including congressmen serving the Antelope Valley and both California senators, to prevent the closure, Irving added. Whiteman, with 71,000 takeoffs and landings in 2012, serves propeller planes, helicopters and the Los Angeles County Fire Department aircraft. Fox Field is the only general aviation airport in the Antelope Valley and is used by corporate planes and the U.S. Forest Service craft. Los Angeles County owns Whiteman and Fox Field and contracts out their management. For safety reasons, close attention is being paid to Whiteman because Bob Hope’s airspace begins just 1.5 miles from the end of Whiteman’s runway, said Richard Smith, chief of the county’s aviation division. The towers at both airports talk with each other every day and there are special departure procedures required for pilots taking off from Whiteman, Smith said. “It takes interaction with the tower to be processed through Burbank’s airspace because of the proximity,” Smith said. At airports without control towers, the FAA employs a “one in, one out” procedure in which pilots notify each other on a universal radio frequency of when they are taking off or landing. The pilots are also in contact with an FAA radar approach control handling a wide area of airspace that keeps aircraft separated from each other.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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