Whiteman Airport

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-29th Dist.) is adding to the demands of those wanting to close down the Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.

In a letter written to the LA County Board of Supervisors dated May 6, the congressman asks board chairperson Holly Mitchell and the other Supervisors to consider a 30-day voluntary shutdown of all airport flights “except for emergencies,” and to participate with “the full audit and investigation” he requested from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in January.

Cárdenas expressed his “profound concern and frustration with the numerous plane crashes occurring from planes taking off or landing” from Whiteman Airport. He pointed to the recent accident on April 20, where pilot John King, of Torrance, was killed when his twin-engine Cessna 337 Spymaster plane crashed alongside the westbound Foothill 210 Freeway in Sylmar, a few miles from Whiteman.

King was the only person aboard. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been investigating the cause of the crash, according to the FAA.

It was the most recent accident near or involving the airport; the others occurred in January and November 2020.

“Los Angeles County, the owner and operator of Whiteman Airport, has a responsibility to ensure that the airport meets the necessary airport safety and standards and that all safety practices are followed as required by the FAA,” the letter stated.

In the separate letter from Cárdenas sent to the FAA, the congressman stated to the agency that “incidents at this airport have become a regularity. This most recent plane crash from Whiteman Airport — in addition to the previous crashes in January 2022, November 2020 — have raised serious concerns for the safety of the communities and families surrounding Whiteman Airport as well as the pilots, personnel and staff that have access to or are located at the airport.

“The lack of urgency and attention to ensuring that this airport is running safely is unacceptable … I respectfully request a prompt response to the above concerns and the request for a full investigation and audit of LA County safety operations of Whiteman Airport by June 3,” the letter stated.

According to the FAA letter, Cárdenas said the NTSB’s database shows that 16 aviation accidents related to Whiteman Airport have occurred since 2009.

Other demands for the closure of Whiteman Airport have come from LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez and the nonprofit community organization Pacoima Beautiful.

Critics have pointed to the increased population density of Pacoima and other nearby communities surrounding the airport as being very vulnerable to the potential catastrophic aftermaths from accidents, and questioned the number of community residents who are said to be employed at or by Whiteman. Pacoima Beautiful officials, in particular, have said they were “highly skeptical” of the airport’s claims of generating some $19 million annually and $54.4 million in economic benefits to the surrounding community.

Whiteman supporters have disputed Rodriguez’s and Pacoima Beautiful’s accusations of the airport’s accident history as being “wildly inaccurate,” and have questioned the depth of analysis being offered regarding the levels of pollution caused solely by the airport and its direct effect on the community of Pacoima — along with the potential loss of first responders being able to respond to emergencies in the Valley.

The airport, established in 1946 by Marvin E. Whiteman, Sr., and purchased by the County of Los Angeles in 1970, houses more than 600 aircraft, including private airplanes as well as police, firefighting and media helicopters.

The public facility spans 182 acres of land and operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It records 108,000 annual takeoffs and landings, about 300 per day. It is used as a base of operations for response to wildfires, and is also home to Glendale Community College flight training and several other flight programs for minors.

The county began holding online community advisory meetings last year regarding the future fate of the airport — known as “Re-envisioning Whiteman Airport: A Community-driven Master Plan” —  which have included consideration of closing the facility.

In January of this year, the supervisors directed their staff to identify documents and data that would need to be presented to the Federal Aviation Administration if the county at some point decides to seek the airport’s closure.