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After plane crashes and close calls, pressure mounts to close this LA airport

Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

But the thought of losing an airstrip troubles aviation enthusiasts. Whiteman caters to pilot hobbyists, commuters and flight students.

"Where would all those airplanes go? There are still people that need to do training," said Dave Kolstad, a retired management consultant who stores an airplane he built 40 years ago inside a hangar at the airport. He notes that the aviation industry is struggling with a shortage of pilots.

As the treasurer of the Whiteman Airport Association and the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Kolstad said he has taken hundreds of children on flights as part of a free youth program at the airport.

"The accident rate in aviation is so low," Kolstad said. "Car accidents don't get reported because they are so routine."

Thomas Anthony, director of the aviation and security program at the University of Southern California, said the type of planes going out of Whiteman rarely have widespread catastrophes like those of commercial flights.

"Cessna or Pipers are extremely light," he said. "The amount of damage that they can do is sort of like the amount of damage a motor scooter or a motorcycle can do."

 

Most often those injured or killed are in the aircraft, he said.

In 2020, 332 people died in general aviation crashes, but overall deaths have been on the decline, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Nobody on the ground, Kolstad said, has been killed at Whiteman in recent memory.

But activists say it's a matter of time. Operations at the airport grew 13.7% between 2014 and 2018. And experts say the growth of air taxis could only put smaller airports in greater demand.

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