In a move that could increase jet noise, John Wayne Airport officials plan to allow airliners to take off with heavier loads during a test period to see if the runway can handle the added stress.
Alan Murphy, an airport spokesman, said the two aircraft affected by weight limits, the MD-80 and the Boeing 737-300, operate far enough below airport noise limits to be able to increase passenger or fuel loads.
"We are concerned about it, so we will closely monitor the noise situation," Murphy said, "but we don't really expect any problems."
However, Jean Watt of Stop Polluting Our Newport, or SPON, an environmental group critical of airport noise, said the plan to raise the weight limit raises questions about the airport noise-monitoring program.
"As I understand it, the heavier the plane, the more noise there is, and it has to show up somewhere," she said.
Ceiling on Passengers
A settlement between the county and anti-airport forces three years ago, Watt said, did not discuss the issue of aircraft weight. Instead, a ceiling was placed on the number of passengers that could be served annually: 8.4 million once the new terminal is open in 1990.
The weight restrictions for jetliners at John Wayne Airport will be relaxed between Jan. 19 and March 31, airport officials said. The maximum weight will be 140,000 pounds, up from 128,000 pounds.
No airline requested the test, Murphy said.
However, AirCal, now owned by American Airlines, had complained about the weight restriction, which was causing the carrier to fly with some seats empty.
Al Beckker, spokesman for Dallas-based American, said the weight limit forced American to fly MD-80s to Dallas with a maximum of 110 passengers instead of 130, the plane's capacity.
"It's a question of economic efficiency," Beckker said. "Of course, when we first started serving Orange County, we thought it was a worthwhile concession or we wouldn't be there."
The other plane affected, the 737-300, is used on American flights to Chicago, currently departing with full loads of 130 passengers, according to a member of American's ground crew at John Wayne. But that plane is several thousand pounds lighter than an MD-80.
But a spokesman for PSA said the 737-300 poses a weight problem in bad weather, when extra fuel is needed to reach distant destinations.
Airline industry officials said that extra fuel and fewer passengers could be carried on aircraft to offer customers nonstop destinations farther than Dallas and Chicago but that such schedule changes are unlikely because of the "hub" system in use now. American's planes, for example, stop at Dallas to provide connections to other American flights.
American's Beckker said fully loaded jumbo jets such as the Boeing 747 and the DC-10 would be needed to justify an airline's investment in service from John Wayne to the East Coast, and such planes do not meet John Wayne's noise limits.
The third jet airliner predominantly used at John Wayne, the BAe-146, a quieter, smaller aircraft, already departs with maximum fuel and passenger loads, airport officials said.