Torrance Airport – Allow Turbine Fuel for the Future

Monday, December 17, 2007
Should Torrance airport sell jet fuel?
By Nick Green
The Torrance (CA) Daily Breeze

One business at Torrance airport sells bumper stickers with slogans that read “I Love Airplane Noise” and “Jet Noise: The Sound of Freedom.” Not exactly the sentiment of those who live nearby. Which is why a ban on the sale of jet fuel and some noisier types of aircraft – including some jets – has long been in place at the city-owned airfield. But now the Airport Commission, an advisory body to the City Council, is taking another look at the policy banning jet fuel sales, a move that has raised the hackles of some residents. “I don’t feel it serves the best interests of the majority of citizens of Torrance,” said Michael Wermers, vice president of the Southwood Riviera Homeowners Association, who lives within a mile of the end of the runway. “It serves a few pilots.”

Indeed, the three-person Airport Commission subcommittee studying the matter includes two pilots.

The subcommittee is just beginning its work and a report that may or may not recommend changing the policy won’t be completed until sometime next year. Even then, any recommendation must first go to the full commission and then the City Council, which has the final say.

Still, it’s clear some members of the subcommittee are leaning toward changing the policy that bans jet fuel sales.

“We have kind of a gut feeling from looking at it that it’s been very counterproductive,” said Airport Commission Chairman Jim Gates, a pilot who has flown out of the airport since 1972.

“The whole idea was it was going to keep jet planes away from Torrance and that hasn’t happened. It’s almost like if you want to reduce (vehicle) traffic in Torrance you would ban gas stations.”

Only about a half-dozen jets are based at Torrance Municipal Airport today, Gates said.

Overturning the ban on jet fuel sales, critics argue, would lead to more jets flying in and out of the airport.

“Jet fuel is good for LAX, but I don’t think it will be put into Torrance for a long time,” said Mayor Frank Scotto. “Eventually what would happen is businesses (that cater to jets) would want to establish themselves in Torrance. It would increase the number of takeoffs and landings dramatically at the airport.”

Gates disagrees.

“I don’t think it would be any draw,” he said. “You wouldn’t drive to Gardena just to buy gas, would you, if you couldn’t buy it in Torrance?”

But that’s what jet pilots who fly into Torrance do now.

They land here, make a quick jaunt to Long Beach or elsewhere to buy jet fuel and then return to Torrance.

Airport Commissioner Gerry Dingman, a pilot, seized on that at a commission meeting Thursday as a justification for allowing the sale of jet fuel, which he contends would actually decrease airport takeoffs and landings.

“Because we don’t have fuel here we get two arrivals and departures rather than just one of each,” he said.

The issue is not new.

Back in 1989, some airport businesses contended the ban on jet fuel sales was stifling growth.

“Business aviation is where the real market is today, and business aviation means jet fuel,” Scott McGrew, president of South Bay Aviation, told the Daily Breeze at the time.

Gates still believes the city’s management of the airport harms businesses there.

As president of the Torrance Airport Association, he once led an unsuccessful legal battle against the city over the alleged illegal diversion of airport revenue, according to the February 1998 issue of In Flight USA magazine.

“There’s been strong pressure to do whatever could be done to damage the businesses at the airport,” Gates said. “We’ve had some administrations that were absolutely anti-airport.”

Yet the airport remains an economic development engine for Torrance.

The airport is home to the city’s fifth-largest private employer, Robinson Helicopter Co., which has more than 1,000 workers.

Twenty years ago the arguments for and against jet fuel were much the same.

Neighboring residents feared allowing jet fuel sales would attract corporate jets, increasing noise levels. Proponents countered that most small jets are actually quieter than the piston-driven airplanes that use the airfield.

“They’re 20 years behind the times,” Tom McCrea, the founder of Southwest Aircraft Services, said of the city government. “The trend is jet fuel now. Eventually, there won’t be any aviation fuel as we know it now. Gas-powered (aircraft) – they’re on their way out.”

Yet he contradicts Gates’ view of what allowing the sales would mean.

“It would bring more jet traffic into here, which would bring more maintenance work, which would bring more to the aviation community,” McCrea said.

He believes the city could simply handle the issue the way it does now, by banning the loudest types of airplanes.

There’s no denying Torrance airport is not as busy as it once was.

The number of aircraft operations – defined as either a takeoff or a landing – at the airfield has declined by 67 percent since 1974, from more than 35,000 operations a month to about 15,000 today.

But that’s fine with many local residents. They don’t want to see any reversal of the trend that would leave them battling jet noise and fumes, which are recurring issues at airports in Van Nuys and Santa Monica. v

The commission Thursday acquiesced to a City Council suggestion that the timeline for gathering public comment on any change in the status of jet fuel sales be extended from a proposed Dec. 31 date to March 1.

Presumably that will not only leave more time for data gathering, but also let opposition grow.

Whether perception and politics ultimately win out over the arguments of those who back the sale of jet fuel remains to be seen.

But opponents are ready to circle the wagons.

“I know people who live in the flight paths of airports that have jet aircraft,” Lomita resident Ernie Moore told the commission last week. “And it’s not pretty.”

WHAT’S NEXT:

Comments on whether the city of Torrance should change its policy banning the sale of jet fuel at Torrance airport should be directed to: Torrance Airport Commission, Policy Subcommitte Study No. 1, 3301 Airport Drive, Torrance, CA 90505 Writers should include their name, address, e-mail address and telephone number. The deadline is March 1.

Editor’s Note: This is really a misnomer in that the term “Jet Fuel” suggests an increase in jet aircraft, when in fact more and more single engine propeller aircraft require it. Anti-airport types should not be allowed to make airport policy.

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