To Whom It May Concern
Subject: Closure of Hawthorne and Santa Monica Control Towers.
As the Chairman of the Southern California Airspace Users Working Group I have been asked to write this letter to justify keeping the Hawthorne, HHR, and Santa Monica, SMO airport control towers open during this period of Sequestration.
It seems unbelievable to those of us who have worked on the airspace design in the Los Angeles area that anyone could consider closing the two control towers that closely support LAX the major hub airport in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it appears that it could happen. The safety issues alone should be extremely obvious. There are no less than 13 transitions over LAX north/south and east/west at 500 ft. separation intervals. On a daily basis one third of these transitions enter and exit through the Class D airspace of SMO and HHR. The entry points for the Mini Route and Helicopter Sepulveda transition begin and end with the Class D of HHR and SMO.
Statistically one third of all accidents occur at uncontrolled airports. Hawthorne airport will be at risk of closure. The City of Hawthorne will not understand uncontrolled airport operations. The risk of an uncontrolled airport which was designated as the “Fifth Runway” of LAX for air traffic operations because of it’s proximity to LAX may very well be unacceptable.
As one of the members of the panel during the FAA’s SMS Risk assessment of the HHR simultaneous approach waiver, I participated in the risk mitigation that requires the HHR tower be open to allow approaches during simultaneous operations. The HHR tower is the safety buffer along the south side of the LAX arrivals. A recent request was forwarded from the Western Pacific Region Service Center to add an additional hour of operations to the HHR tower. The additional hour of operation would match the SMO tower hours to improve the safety of the LAX transitions and approach during peak arrival hours. This hour would also improve the safety of numerous police helicopter operations in the area under and around the LAX finals.
I would also like to address specifically the efforts to create the finely tuned Hawthorne/LAX tower operations and what it has taken financially to get to the current system in place. In the year 2000 there was a ballot measure to close the airport filed by a developer wanting the airport land for other than airport development. The measure was defeated by 71% of the voters in Hawthorne who wanted to keep their airport open. That began a process to keep the airport open as a community friendly airport and continue to develop the airport as a reliever airport to LAX. An airport supported by the community is rare. The relief to LAX is real.
From 2002 until 2013, the FAA, with contributing funds from the city of Hawthorne, has spent 6.3 million dollars in grant money to bring the runways, taxiways, lighting, and support equipment up to modern standards. The City of Hawthorne contributed 5 % in matching funds. In 2012 an additional grant of 1.1 million dollars was issued that the city was required to match to upgrade the tower facility at HHR.
While the funds mentioned were spent in the interest of safety, and because HHR is a designated reliever airport, there was also a private sector contribution. The subsequent effort to attract jet and turboprop traffic away from landing at LAX, already impacted by too much traffic began with leasing airport property to a development group. That business entity has spent millions of dollars of private funds building a first class Fixed Base Operations facility, hangars, and attracting airport compatible business to the Hawthorne airport.
The key to the success of this venture is dependent on HHR being able to operate under Instrument Flight Rules and truly function as the fifth runway of LAX. It took over two years and thousands of man hours of work by FAA staff to develop an up to date waiver for continued “simultaneous” parallel approach operations between LAX and HHR during peak arrival periods. Since final approval of the waiver in 2011 the airport utilization at HHR has steadily increased. THE WAIVER IS DEPENDENT ON THE TOWER BEING IN OPERATION. If the tower is closed the small, medium, and large corporate jet traffic to HHR will have to return to LAX or other impacted airports in the area. All commercial and general aviation operations will be severely impacted with huge delays to an airport that is currently operating very efficiently. Safety and security issues will be huge.
Santa Monica is faced with many of the same issues as HHR with an even greater threat of closing by the community. The FAA financial investment at SMO has been less in recent years, but the facility value to the LAX operation is equally significant.
The real issue with both airports is their significant contribution to LAX safety and security. The Class D airspace of SMO and HHR provides the buffer to LAX operations that is vital to safety.
I have been a member of the SCAUWG airspace committee continuously since the establishment of the committee following the Cerritos accident in 1986. I have been the Chairman or Co-Chairman for the past 16 years. I have seen tremendous improvement in air safety by FAA staff and the group in the past 26 years. Closing either of the towers that border LAX would be the most dangerous action that could be taken toward producing another Cerritos accident that I can imagine.
Patrick T. Carey
Southern California Airspace Users Group