Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why not build an airport at sea? Long Beach bosses once wondered this

Yes, there were plenty of complaints about airport noise 50 years ago. It’s not a new thing. Noise, air pollution, the all-around ever-present danger of jets falling from the sky. All those headaches made Long Beach look toward the sea as the solution to the problems in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Why not build an airport at sea, wondered the city bosses.

Well, it would be quite a ways out at sea, for one things. You haven’t heard loud until you’ve disturbed the slumber of residents on the coast. It’s one thing to put up with bellyaching of Bixby Knolls and Los Altos. It’s quite another when the homeowners in Naples, the Peninsula and Belmont Shore get into the fray. And that’s fair. Unlike the others, they didn’t move next to an airport.

So the initial plans for an offshore airport called for it to be at least seven miles out, well past the breakwater.

The cost would be enormous. Just building a seven- or eight-mile road from town to the airport would be plenty, and then there would be the airport itself.

Still, dreamers dreamt, and as cities grew out to engulf airports that were once out in the sticks, airport designers looked for land at sea.

In 1971, the Federal Aviation Administration commissioned a report on the feasibility of building an offshore airport. Ralph M. Parson Co., which completed the study, said it could be done if planned properly and managed to not get rammed by, say, a big ship.

A study of the Long Beach offshore airport in particular, made by Quinton Engineers Ltd., again showed that the airport would be “technically feasible.”

The Parsons engineers explored four offshore airport ideas from the one you’ve already thought of, which is just pouring dirt in the water until you have an island, to floating airports, in which floatable blocks of concrete or steel would be hauled out to the site where they would be assembled and anchored. The latter method would be the best, reported the report, although it had such drawbacks as “the entire structure may break up and/or sink.”

So, we’re talking somewhere between $7 billion and $13 billion, and this was back in 1971 when you could buy a lot for a billion dollars. It’s the equivalent of $42 billion to $79 billion in today’s dollars.

The cost could be mitigated in a few ways, including have passengers do all their check-in and other matters on land before driving out to the airport and, perhaps, there could be oil-drilling from the airport to bring in some dollars. But, as John Mansell, who was city manager in 1971, noted, “There’s not enough oil all over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to pay for it.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Paul Deats, a city councilman and chairman of the council’s legislative committee, noted, “That represents every drop of oil that has been taken out of Signal Hill, and that’s a lot of money.” He added: “I don’t think it would do this city one bit of good.”

Mansell put the final kibash on the plan, saying that the city had no intention of developing the airport at sea and, at any rate, had never contemplated anything like the “gigantic proportions” of the proposed field.

Original article can be found here ➤

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