An ordinance banning the noisiest business jets from John Wayne Airport won initial approval Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors in a move that could affect some of the county's largest corporations and the ability of companies elsewhere to fly in and out of Orange County to do business.
The ordinance is billed by county officials as an attempt to force business jets to meet the same noise standards required of commercial airliners, but a spokesman for the National Business Aircraft Assn. described it as "draconian," and hinted at a possible legal challenge.
While only about 10 jets based at the airport--and owned by some of the county's most prominent corporations--would be affected, industry officials said the ordinance would have a major impact on the ability of businessmen throughout the nation to travel to Orange County to conduct business.
The ordinance cleared its first reading before the board on a unanimous vote. It will be up for final adoption next Tuesday in what normally would be a routine action. However, heavy opposition from business groups in the intervening days could change the board's decision.
Ban at 98.5 Decibels
Under the measure, private jets registering more than 98.5 decibels at a monitoring station in Santa Ana Heights would be banned outright. Included in that category--and prohibited from flying at John Wayne unless it can be proved that they are quieter--are the Westwind 1123, Jet Commander, BAC-111, Jet Star I, Sabre Liner, Gulf Stream II, and Lear Jet models 23, 24 and 25.
Jets owned by Irvine Co. Board Chairman Donald Bren, Smith International, the Koll Co. and the William Lyon Co., among others, would be banned outright. Moreover, nearly every business jet currently operating at the airport would be prevented from flying between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.--hours prized by business people who cannot rely on airline schedules.
"The types of people that travel in those airplanes can't rely on the airlines," said Norman Anderson of Skybird Aviation, a Van Nuys firm owned by Bren that operates four charter jets for a number of corporations.
"These people are chief executive officers of blue chip corporations that may do business in two or three cities on the same day. Our airports, especially Orange County, play a very important part in the nation's economic and transportation system, and with the rest of the United States modernizing airports, Orange County is doing just the opposite," Anderson said.
For nearly a year, commercial airliners exceeding 98.5 decibels have been banned from John Wayne Airport, and county officials reason that private aircraft should not be given special treatment.
"It's about time that general aviation has to meet the same regulations and standards that commercial aviation has to meet," Supervisor Bruce Nestande said. "A private plane that carries two to six passengers--why should it be able to make more noise than a plane that carries 140 or 150 passengers?"
Would Affect Curfew
The ordinance would also lower the noise limits for the airport's curfew hours, banning all aircraft taking off at more than 86 decibels at 11 p.m. That is likely to include nearly every business jet except the Mitsubishi and the Canadair, according to Bill Martin, the county's noise abatement chief.
Moreover, the nighttime curfew is now likely to take in some twin-engine propeller airplanes as well, Martin said.
"That's draconian," exclaimed Robert Cooke, vice president of operations for the National Business Aircraft Assn., an organization of 2,900 companies throughout the nation that own business aircraft. The association has spent millions of dollars in court challenges of restrictive airport regulations over the past decade, including cases in Santa Monica, Burbank and Westchester County, N.Y.
"General aviation has been and continues to do its part for noise abatement. Airplanes are becoming quieter all the time. This is like saying we have a few people who are over 85; who's going to worry about them; nobody can be over 85," Cooke said.
"We have to represent not just pilots and operations at Orange County, we represent the pilots and companies who operate out of Chicago, New York and everywhere else," he added.
In a telegram to supervisors' Chairman Thomas F. Riley late Monday, the association said the ordinance is discriminatory because it requires private jets to meet single-event noise limits, while airliners are permitted to meet noise regulations by way of their average noise levels over a three-month period.
'Cries Out for Litigation'
"The discriminatory treatment of non-commercial operators who are now being prohibited from operation at your airport on the basis of rules which are more stringent than those applied to noisier air carrier operations cries out for litigation," the telegram said.