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Flight Awards Favor AirCal, PSA Charges

February 27, 1986|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | Times County Bureau Chief

AirCal emerged a big winner Wednesday over San Diego-based Pacific Southwest Airlines in an airline industry bid for more flights at John Wayne Airport, sparking allegations of favoritism from PSA and other airlines that want to serve the lucrative market.

Newport Beach-based AirCal was given 20 new flights per day for the British-built BAe-146 jetliners it plans to fly out of the noise-sensitive airport. PSA was given no increase above the 23 daily flights it operates with the same quiet aircraft, which the carrier has been adding to its fleet for the past two years.

"We're just outraged by the whole thing," said PSA spokesman Bill Hastings. "We've been working with (Orange County) to increase our flight schedule for the summer, and then they go ahead and pull this stunt. It appears that the supervisors are playing a game of cronyism just as they have for years."

PSA, which has been using the BAe-146 aircraft to operate 23 flights out of John Wayne, wanted permission to schedule additional flights during the summer months, Hastings said.

Hastings complained that although AirCal was given the chance to request more flights, "we weren't given that option. We'll have to reassess our options to see what can be done."

County supervisors also placed a moratorium on new flights by small commuter carriers. An exception was made for Wings West Airlines because the carrier had an application filed with the county before the moratorium was proposed by the airport staff.

Wednesday's actions came as the supervisors wrestled with the problem of allocating flights for the quarter beginning April 1, the first period of a new airport access plan. Part of a court-approved settlement of airport noise lawsuits between the county and Newport Beach, the plan allows limited airport expansion in return for an overall limit on the number of passengers that can use the facility each year.

The ceiling is 4.75-million passengers annually, until a new terminal is opened around 1990. Then the annual lid will be raised to 8.4 million. The moratorium on new commuter flights was imposed by county supervisors in order to help the airport stay below the current annual passenger ceiling.

Sensitive Issue

But the most difficult issue facing the board was what to do about new jetliners that are so quiet they are in effect exempt from airport noise regulations and thus could be flown as many times as the airlines want until the airport's 4.75-million annual passenger ceiling is reached.

The number of flights is a sensitive political issue because of strong anti-airport sentiment among homeowners who live near the field and who fear more flights will create additional safety risks and noise pollution.

But supervisors decided not to adopt a formal policy and instead voted unanimously for a temporary allocation of 20 so-called exempt flights to AirCal but restricted PSA to the 12 exempt flights which were previously approved.

Representatives from PSA, America West, Jet America, Western Airlines and Continental Airlines all testified against the board's plan and charged that AirCal was receiving special treatment.

As reported, AirCal posted a net loss of $4.8 million for the fourth quarter, compared to net income of $2.4 million for the same period a year earlier. The carrier attributed the downturn in part to severe price cutting by some of its competitors.

Supervisors Accused

Hastings of PSA charged that the county had ignored his airline's request for a total of 18 exempt flights using the extra-quiet BAe-146 jets.

PSA officials also accused supervisors of favoring AirCal by awarding extra flights in violation of county rules that require airlines to have enough planes to serve the new flights on the first day of the new allocation period, in this case April 1.

AirCal has acknowledged that although it is spending $100 million to purchase six of the four-engine BAe-146s, it will have taken delivery of only two of the planes by April 1.

"There's no way they'll even be able to fly 20 flights with two airplanes," Hastings said.

PSA uses 20 BAe-146s and was the first to introduce them to John Wayne Airport.

County officials said PSA filed its latest bid for additional flights too late to be considered for the quarter beginning April 1.

In addition to the BAe-146s, AirCal operates seven Boeing 737-300s and 23 Boeing 737-200s. The last of its MD-80s will be sold by Friday, David A. Banmiller, AirCal president, said.

Times staff writer Greg Johnson and free-lancer Jeff Rowe contributed to this story.

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