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Finding common ground

Pilots and community members rallied behind Zamperini Field in Torrance, California, in a rare show of unity after an alternative land use study threatened closure of the airport, while continued rogue action from the City Council sent mixed signals.

Image by Chris Rose.

Despite near-unanimous consent that the airport should remain operational, city officials, community members, and pilots have different ideas about what this should look like. For years, pilots and the residential community near the field have wrestled over noise disputes.

In September, in a clear violation of federal law, the city prohibited many forms of aeronautical activity despite warnings from aviation groups, which banded together to submit a 70-page letter to the city encouraging suspension of the action until the FAA could verify whether the city was acting in legal compliance. The city doubled down and voted 5-1 (with one abstention) during a January 23 meeting to ban touch-and-goes and restrict back-taxis and low approaches at the field.

AOPA continues to be deeply concerned about this new action and the past actions taken by the city to restrict airport operations and what that will mean for the safety and efficiency of surrounding airports. In yet another letter to Torrance City Attorney Patrick Sullivan, AOPA cited how this ordinance conflicts with the FAA’s exclusive authority to regulate these airport operations and all matters of aviation safety.

“To avoid the waste of taxpayer funds in defending actions that are federally preempted and that will require significant financial and staff resources to litigate law that is already well settled, the City should not pass the proposed ordinance,” the letter states. “[Zamperini Field] is part of the national aviation system, and the ordinance contemplated today is not only illegal, but it would also shift flights to neighboring airports in the region,”

AOPA has been fighting efforts to restrict flight operations at Zamperini Field for over a year. “Community-led discussions have brought forward numerous ideas for ways to try and achieve harmony with the airport, but the city has accepted none of those offerings,” said AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Jared Yoshiki.

Although escalations of recent noise disputes may divide opinions, it is obvious that all involved understand the value the airport brings to the community. During the same Torrance City Council meeting on January 23, the council voted 6-1 to defer action on a land use study that would have threatened the future of Zamperini Field. Both community members and pilots were in favor of this deferral, as the proposed study would have investigated the economic and financial benefits for the city should it take steps to transform the general aviation airport to a master planned land development project.

Unfortunately for developers, the airport received glowing praise from several councilmembers, some of whom went as far as to say they never wished to see the airport closed. And Councilmember Asam Sheikh described Zamperini Field as “a very valuable asset to the city.”

A gem of the city, Zamperini Field was named after famous World War II veteran Louis Zamperini—Olympic athlete and subject of the New York Times bestseller Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The airport was established in the 1940s and is currently home to many businesses that bring economic benefits to the Torrance community—including the Robinson Helicopter Company.

“There may be some minds on the City Council keen on developing airport land, but I think it’s clear the community values the airport more than another big box store or affordable housing developer,” said Yoshiki. “Unfortunately, this value cannot be realized if the city continues its implementation of punitive actions against the pilots while ignoring the good-faith conversations between the community and the airport to restore balance.”

Lillian Geil

Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy

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