SANTA ANA — Another discount airline intends to begin service at John Wayne Airport this month--offering $69 one-way fares to San Jose--following Tuesday's approval by the Orange County Board of Supervisors of a plan that revamps the way flights are divvied up.
The change, approved unanimously despite objections from United Airlines, tackles the longstanding problem at John Wayne of equitably dividing the limited number of flights allowed for noisy jetliners. The number of those flights was restricted under a 1975 court settlement between the county and Newport Beach, which was seeking to reduce jet noise.
Airport officials say the change is also aimed at addressing major changes in the airline industry, where both domestic and foreign airlines are linking themselves with one another in various alliances.
"It's a way of extending their route system without really extending their route system," said Jeff Hampton, a writer for Commercial Aviation Report, a trade publication based in Dallas.
John Wayne Airport's former policy for allocating flights hampered the start of new service by assigning carriers to a waiting list where they were stuck until another airline dropped some of its flights. Then the county allocated these landing slots among those waiting.
Under the new policy, carriers already established at the airport can share their allotted flights with airlines that want to start service at John Wayne. The result, proponents said, will be more flight and fare choices for passengers.
The change is also expected to benefit low-cost carriers like Reno Air, which already has a marketing link with American Airlines, one of the busiest carriers at John Wayne. Reno Air can now take over five daily flights to San Jose and one to Reno that were previously flown by American.
Service could start later this month, said Robert M. Rowen, vice president at Reno Air.
But the revised flight allocation policy was strongly opposed by a lawyer for United Airlines, who warned that it will actually stifle competition in the long run.
Attorney Burt Pines told the supervisors that the new policy "will put in place a system of cartels. Airlines will be very reluctant to surrender their allocation" of flights to the airport, he said, and will tend to recruit other airlines to join with them instead. Together, he said, airlines will divide up routes so they can in effect shut out competitors.
Though Reno Air is being allowed to fly into Orange County, Pines argued, other discounters will be forever barred. He said Shuttle by United, which started service from several Southland airports Saturday, will not be able to collect enough flights to serve John Wayne.
But Board Chairman Thomas F. Riley, in whose district the airport lies, countered that "it's great for passengers, which is why I support it."
The measure, which takes effect immediately, passed on a 4-0 vote.