Less than two days after a settlement ended years of dispute with Newport Beach over the future of John Wayne Airport, the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday authorized a massive temporary increase in jet flights that has infuriated airport neighbors once again.
The plan, approved 4 to 1 over board Chairman Thomas F. Riley's vehement objections, will allow as many as 95 airline departures a day during the first three months of 1986, including nine more flights by the noisiest jets than the number permitted under the agreement signed Monday by U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr.
"While these changes are undoubtedly legal under the settlement agreement with the City of Newport Beach, there is no doubt that they do not uphold the spirit of the agreement," Riley said. He called the new plan a "slap in the face and the realization of their worst fears" for Newport Beach residents who live under the flight path.
Newport Beach Councilwoman Evelyn Hart walked stone-faced out of the hearing room, and muttered: "I can't talk. I really can't. I'm devastated by their action."
The settlement authorizes a maximum of 55 regular jet departures each day, plus enough additional flights by ultra-quiet jets like the British Aerospace BAe-146 to carry a total of 4.75 million passengers a year until a new airline terminal is built. Theoretically, that could mean a total of about 80 flights.
The new plan authorizes as many as 95 departures, though county officials estimate that airlines will elect to fly no more than about 79 because of the few months left for the extra flights.
The plan approved Wednesday comes out of several little-understood technicalities in the county's methods for allocating flights at John Wayne.
First, both the county's allocation plan and the settlement agreement describe flights as "average daily departures." That means that airlines can fly heavier schedules during peak travel periods and pull back some of their flights during slack periods, as long as daily flights average out in a year at 55.
Accumulated Flight Credits
The current situation arose because some airlines have not used all of their allocated departure slots. Republic Airlines, for example, gave up three of its daily departures shortly after the airport's operating year began April 1, explaining that it did not have a market for them. Thus, 1,095 departures, Republic's unused departures for a year, have been accumulating in the bank, in effect.
PSA, having purchased the ultra-quiet BAe-146, found that it did not need to apply for a daily departure allocation because the aircraft was quieter than the standards set for noisier jets. Thus, it asked for and received 18 "exempt" flights that are in addition to the 55 regular airline departures.
Because many of the BAe-146 flights had formerly been counted against PSA's share of the 55 daily flights, county airport officials decided it would be fairer to put those in the bank as well and award them to other eligible airlines until the next airport operating year begins April 1.
The bottom line is that the airport has averaged 45 daily flights over the early part of the year, instead of 55, and the shortfall is now up for grabs until April 1.
The plan approved by the Board of Supervisors awards all the leftover departure credits for use between Jan. 1 and April 1, temporarily increasing flights by the noisiest jets to as many as 48 a day, compared to the 39-per-day ceiling established under the settlement agreement.
Of the extra daily departures allowed for somewhat quieter jets under the new plan, only AirCal and America West airlines qualify since they are the only carriers that fly the Boeing 737/300. Another 18 departures for quiet jets go to PSA with the BAe-146.
Special airport counsel Michael Gatzke emphasized that it is "highly unlikely" that carriers will use all the departures available to them, since the extra flights are available only until April. It is more likely that flights will increase to about 66 per day, not counting PSA's 18 "exempt" flights, Gatzke said. Airport Manager Murry Cable estimated there would be only about 79 departures.
Newport Attorney Objects
In any case, all airlines would be subject to the 55 flight-per-day limit again on March 1, Gatzke said.
"We object to a policy that would inject the uncertainty that the City of Newport Beach believed was cleared up with the settlement agreement. The county is trying to in some way provoke them by dumping all the unused (flights)," said Josephine Powe, an attorney representing the city in the airport litigation.
While city officials recognize that the county must respond to PSA's request for exempt status on its quiet jets, they "can't live with" the reallocation of the airline's noisier flights to other carriers, Powe said.