Monday, August 2, 2010

Tom Towers and the Junket

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Tom Towers worked tirelessly in helping southern California plan for airport growth and expansion, and early on he recognized the need for noise abatement as "the jet age" came into fashion. His familiarity with progress in aviation gave him the opportunity to write about all manner of things in the air -- including UFOs -- during his time as aviation editor for the old Los Angeles Examiner. An old fifties newspaper photo reproduced (poorly) here shows writer Towers, standing second from left, attending a session previewing a 1959 Beechcraft airplane in Palm Springs at the Palm Desert Airport.

Apparently, for a time in 1957 Towers also moderated his own local Sunday TV show, though I'm unaware of its content. Airports and noise were probably involved, and perhaps UFOs as well, as only a year had passed since the release of the movie starring Towers. Complicating things, A TV host named Chris Roberts was listed as talking about UFOs earlier on the Sunday Morning shown in the scan displayed here (sorry about the visual quality).

During my correspondence with Tom Towers in the 1970s, one subject that never came up was his minor notoriety in a seventies "junket" controversy. Even though he had done crime reporting in his earlier newspaper career, I was unaware of the public admonishment awarded his own "crime" via local California media, particularly via articles appearing in the Van Nuys Valley News (ref. especially Nov. 12, 1977). Towers, then an administrative assistant for the Dept. of Airports, and several other airport and city officials flew off to the annual International Civil Airports Association conference, held in Vienna in September, and made the mistake of flying first class -- which cost the city of Los Angeles almost an extra $1,000 for each of the five.

The uproar from the city controller about the "expense account mentality" obviously reverberated throughout Los Angeles and hands were slapped through the power of the press. The conference seems to have provided some valuable insight regarding airport noise and the like, but the first class flight expenses apparently negated the benefits accrued in the eyes of some and portrayed Towers and other officials equivalent to, yes, snakes on a plane.

Following this, I wonder if future conference attendees were forced to fly in the cargo hold, accompanied only by crated dogs and cats? Sure wish I could have had a few words from Tom himself about this colorful situation.

(Thanks to Barry Greenwood for providing archival news clippings and for alerting me to the Vienna matter.)