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PSA Charges Favoritism, Seeks Writ to Block AirCal

March 22, 1986|LESLIE BERKMAN | Times Staff Writer

Accusing Orange County of unfairly favoring AirCal, its archrival, PSA asked a federal court Friday to halt a flight allocation plan that goes into effect April 1 at John Wayne Airport.

PSA's action was triggered by the Orange County Board of Supervisors' decision Feb. 26 to give Newport Beach-based AirCal 20 new flights per day for the quiet, British-built BAe 146 jetliners it plans to operate at John Wayne.

At the same time, the supervisors refused to give San Diego-based PSA more than the 12 daily flights it now has at the airport with the same quiet aircraft.

'A Step Ahead'

Pacific Southwest Airlines, which last year was the first airline in the county to buy the British jets, had hoped that it would get "a step ahead of the competition," Dennis O'Dell, PSA's general counsel and vice president, said Friday. He objected that, "by government fiat, the Board of Supervisors is trying to vault AirCal back into first place and take away the just rewards of our business decision."

The request for the preliminary injunction was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, and a hearing has been scheduled for April 1, O'Dell said--the day AirCal's new allocation becomes effective.

Low Noise Level

When PSA test-flew the BAe 146 early last year, its performance surprised county officials by registering noise levels so low that technically it was exempt from county limits on the number of takeoffs. AirCal, which had invested heavily in new Boeing aircraft, placed a $100-million order in January for six of the British jets, vowing that it would not be outdone at its home airport.

O'Dell complained that when county officials decided how to allocate flights for so-called "exempt" aircraft at John Wayne, they ignored PSA's request for six more daily departures while giving AirCal more potential flights than that airline can use April 1, when it will have taken delivery of only two BAe 146 jets. By contrast, he said, PSA now has 20 of the jets and four more on order.

20 More Flights

AirCal spokesman Bill Bell, however, said that AirCal has "committed to the county" that it will fly an average of 20 additional flights a day at John Wayne in the April through June quarter. He said AirCal expects to have a total of four BAe 146 jets by May.

Bell said he was unable to comment on PSA's request for a preliminary injunction because AirCal officials had not seen a copy of it. However, he complained that in recent weeks PSA has accused AirCal of "collusion" with the county and he denied that was the case.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Ralph Clark said Friday night that he "wouldn't want to comment" on PSA's action "until I talk to county counsel about it on Monday."

O'Dell said PSA is asking the court to halt the new allocations "until and if they (supervisors) adopt a non-discriminatory plan."

He said PSA was "not totally surprised" by the plan, however, "becaused the history has been one of (the supervisors) trying to favor AirCal at every opportunity they got."

Nor is it the first time PSA has taken the county to court with charges of discrimination. In 1981, O'Dell said, PSA obtained a court injunction scuttling an earlier airport access plan that PSA also alleged gave AirCal an unfair edge.

Blow to AirCal

As a result, the county revised its plan to allow entry of additional airlines at John Wayne. Under the revised plan, AirCal sustained a severe blow in which its allocation of average daily departures at the county airport was reduced from 27 to 12 1/2.

Also Friday, U.S. District Judge Terry M. Hatter Jr. ruled that Orange County officials may restrict the number of planes parked overnight at John Wayne Airport.

Hatter denied a request for an injunction against the county brought by American Airlines, which had been renting a private tie-down space owned by UCO Air in order to have three jets parked overnight instead of the two authorized by the county.

Safety Concerns

Hatter cited the county's safety concerns and its legal right to regulate the airport.

But he also suggested that the airline be allowed to keep the extra plane at the airport until April 30 to help minimize disruption of flight schedules.

Meanwhile, the county has the authority to decide where American can park its extra plane, Hatter ruled. Airport officials said the jet will be parked overnight in an area normally used for "transient" aircraft, or planes not based at John Wayne.

After April 30, American will not be allowed to park the extra plane at the airport, officials said.

Donald Hibner, American's lawyer at Friday's hearing, said he will ask the court to hold an "expedited" trial on the dispute. Friday's hearing was held merely to determine if a temporary restraining order issued earlier should be extended.

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