On-base or near-base jet-chopper collisions are Hargarten's other fear. "They're going to have at least 155,000 flight operations [per year], mixing huge numbers of helicopters and jets; helicopters flying at very low speed, jets flying at high speed approaching the field. Their heavy-lift Super Stallions are the largest helicopters in the world, the length of two Greyhound buses. [Together with the Marines' Ch-46 "Sea Knight" helicopters] they will add 317 tons of pollutants to San Diego airspace per year."
More important, Hargarten says, data his group obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that in a ten-year period ending 1996, the Marine helicopter squadrons located at Tustin suffered an average of almost two "Class A" accidents per year in noncombatant-related operations. Class A accidents, says Hargarten, are defined as those with at least $1 million worth of damage and/or one or more fatalities.
He reads from a letter sent by a retired Marine aviator, concerned enough to write but afraid that he'll lose his retirement pension if he reveals his name.
" 'Miramar [will be] used for multiple go-around touch-and-go landings for Field Carrier Landing Practice. The combination of helicopter operations in the vicinity of repetitive close multiple approaches by jet fighters is the most dangerous and conflicted. The objective of carrier landing practice is to [land on a] small landing zone which replicates a carrier deck. This requires consummate skill and concentration. Pilots should not be expected to also watch for potential conflicts with helicopter operations.
" 'The first and second Marine Aircraft Wings, of similar size to the third Wing [the one coming to Miramar], have two and three separate bases respectively. In no other location than Miramar have the Navy or Marines carried out or proposed to carry out a mixed-use operation of this magnitude.' "
The FAA's White says he's not sure how many planes and choppers the Marines will be operating out of Miramar. He's never asked them for actual numbers.
"To my knowledge we did not talk about [it]. Until we have actual schedules to deal with, the numbers of airplanes that we're able to accommodate could change. Our commitment to them has always been that...we'll serve them the best that we can."
He acknowledges that, as his proposal paper says, the airspace review was triggered particularly by safety concerns "of the addition of diversified Marine helicopter and fixed-wing assets at Miramar." But he insists the changes to Class B airspace around Miramar only need to be minimal.
"Perhaps [Hargarten's organization] MARCH feels that what they've got here is the FAA admitting there's a big problem, and so they've had to have this radical change of airspace to take care of it, but that's not the case. We have a new customer in the Marines. And we have made some very minor adjustments to the airspace to accommodate their operations. And that may not be exciting, but that's the truth of the matter."
But Hargarten says there's a double standard. "I guarantee," he says, "that if that were a civilian airport, you'd hear a different story out of the FAA."