For more than two years, county officials have claimed they could design an international airport at El Toro that is safe and profitable. County officials say the hills and mountains that surround the base on three sides-the same ones that force nimble Marine Corps fighters to turn sharply immediately after takeoff-will pose no problems to big commercial airliners. County officials also say they can operate El Toro and John Wayne airports simultaneously.
A chorus of aviation specialists-including numerous former and current commercial pilots, two commercial pilots unions, a former FAA associate administrator and a former Department of Transportation inspector general-say all of that is nonsense. They say an international airport at El Toro will never be safe and profitable.
Add C. Roy Miller's name to that list. An aviation consultant and Mission Viejo resident, Miller helped design air facilities for Pan Am, Western and Continental airlines in Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Okinawa and the Philippines. He also played a key role in designing the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX before the 1984 Olympics.
"The biggest problem is that the county has been trying to design an airport in a vacuum," said Miller, referring to the secrecy that shrouds the county's airport plans. "Would you let me build you a house without asking you what you want?"
Miller outlined a wide spectrum of problems facing the county, most of which we've already covered. But one of them, the configuration of El Toro's runways, makes a mockery of the county's insistence that they will only have to make minor "alterations" to the current runways.
"El Toro has a cross-runway configuration, which was originally designed for smaller aircraft," he said. "Because the two runways going in each direction are only 700 feet apart, only one aircraft can take off at a time." Miller added that the FAA requires 4,300 feet between parallel runways-six times the distance at El Toro-before departures can occur simultaneously. "That's what the FAA requires, but it's been my experience that they'd like to have 6,000 feet between the runways."
Miller then compared El Toro's configuration-which the county insists will not change-to LAX. "There, you have [room for] four 12,000-foot parallel runways with no restrictions," Miller said, explaining that LAX has the ideal airport configuration. But according to Miller, there's really only one place in Southern California capable of duplicating LAX.
"If the county could talk the Marines down at Camp Pendleton out of a chunk of land, they could build four parallel, 12,000-foot runways with no obstructions," he said. "With a seaport built close by, both LA and San Diego would be close enough to share the benefits."
Although the Marines have no plans to leave Camp Pendleton any time soon, Miller is confident the Corps would surrender a few of the 125,000 acres it currently holds.
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