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Weighty Issue of Cargo Flights at John Wayne : Shipping: UPS wants an evening departure from the airport so it can pick up O.C. packages later and avoid its beat-the-clock drive to Long Beach.

August 08, 1993|CHRIS WOODYARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALISO VIEJO — You might say Joe Bennett lives on deadline.

Every afternoon, the United Parcel Service driver has to beat the clock as he pilots a bulky chocolate-brown van from the company's hilltop processing center in Aliso Viejo to the Long Beach Airport. It's the last chance for packages from Orange County to make an overnight delivery jet.

Traffic jams resulting from accidents, rain or sold-out concerts at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre can make Bennett horribly late. And every minute that the company's delayed Boeing 757 freighter holds up its national distribution operation in Louisville, Ky., it costs the firm $2,000.

That is why UPS is so intent on beginning regular cargo jet service out of John Wayne Airport. Bennett's 36-mile commute, along with the shipments of about 420 other UPS drivers in Orange County, would be shaved in half. Businesses that depend on overnight shipping, like those with a sizable mail-order operation, would be able to add at least a half hour to their business day for outgoing packages. That could be enough to determine whether a sale goes to them or to a competitor.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 10, 1993 Orange County Edition Business Part D Page 2 Column 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Air Cargo--The volume of cargo expected to be shipped from Southern California airports in the year 2010 was mistakenly identified as 1992 volume in a chart published Sunday.

But including a single cargo plane among John Wayne's 73-plane daily lineup is hardly as simple as it sounds. The Board of Supervisors would have to amend a 1985 agreement that effectively barred regularly scheduled, all-cargo flights. A passenger flight would most likely have to be bumped to make way for the freighter. And airport staff worries that adding cargo-only flights could set a troublesome precedent, displacing passengers for packages and opening the door to more cargo operations by existing airlines.

"There will be some weighty issues," predicted John Wayne airport spokeswoman Courtney C. Wiercioch.

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Not weighty enough, however, to prevent UPS from trying to change the system. The company and its rival, Federal Express, each applied five years ago for permission to begin cargo flights. Traffic congestion gets worse every year, however, so the need for service at John Wayne is as great as ever, UPS maintains.

The latest information available shows that in 1991, only 2,500 tons of air freight moved through John Wayne, about 0.2% of the total volume in Southern California. Most of those were small shipments that were sent in the bellies of passenger airliners. In contrast, Los Angeles International Airport had 1.3 million tons, or 79.1% of the volume and tiny Long Beach Airport had more than 27,000 tons, or 1.7%, according to the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

The present system "doesn't provide our customers with good pickup service," said Oscar Jeffrion, district manager for the UPS region that covers Orange and San Diego counties. Final daily pickup times now vary from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Orange County, based on proximity to the airport.

Now that UPS is at the top of the airport waiting list, it has decided to spend an estimated $100,000 to fulfill the requirement for an environmental impact study that will look at the implications of adding a single daily freight flight at John Wayne.

While such detailed reports are usually reserved for construction projects or sensitive environmental areas, UPS said it hopes that the report will allay fears about noise and shed light on several other issues. For instance, it will show whether a cargo flight would generate additional pollution by forcing scores of airline passengers who would have otherwise flown from Orange County to commute to flights at Long Beach or Los Angeles International airports.

Federal Express, meanwhile, has since lost interest in John Wayne and is pinning its hopes on the eventual commercialization of the 4,600-acre El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, due to be closed as early as 1997.

"I don't think, regardless of what we do, we're going to gain permission to fly out of John Wayne Airport," said Gil Mook, a Federal Express vice president at the company's headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. "The noise requirements and the local citizenry just won't tolerate additional flights."

UPS' Jeffrion said that John Wayne is, "right now, the only airport available to us" for consideration in Orange County and "if El Toro became the primary airport . . . I'm sure we'll be requesting a flight out of there instead of John Wayne."

The County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the annual reallocation of flights every April, appears decidedly cool about allowing all-cargo flights.

"Legally, I have to say I'm open-minded. But emotionally, there has been a lot of effort on this but I have a commitment to move the people. . . . I'm a people person," said veteran Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the airport.

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Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, who chairs the board, said "there are so many questions to be answered" and that no conclusions are possible until the environmental report is received.

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