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The Region

Battle Over Airport Limits Could Grow

Travel: Defeat of proposed El Toro facility could fuel John Wayne's expansion. Foes want to extend court order to limit its growth.

November 24, 2001|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County and Newport Beach are considering ways to retain the strict limits on jets operating out of John Wayne Airport as voters prepare to decide in March whether to scrap plans for a new airport at El Toro.

Newport Beach officials worry that if voters kill plans for the El Toro airport, there will be new calls for an expansion of John Wayne Airport, whose flight path is above the city.

So city and county officials want to continue controlling the airport's size by extending an agreement approved by a federal judge in 1985. The ruling restricts the number of passengers and regulated flights.

John Wayne is one of only a few airports that have such agreements, which Congress banned in 1990.

The county expects John Wayne to shrink once El Toro is built, although airport foes say that major airlines eventually would leave the smaller airport completely with El Toro just seven miles away.

Five joint county-city proposals released this week consider modest growth at John Wayne Airport while extending existing controls for 10 years, through 2015. The limits expire on Dec. 31, 2005.

Doing so would allow the airport to handle more of Orange County's air travelers while limiting the potential effect of added noise, pollution and traffic, according to an environmental review of the new proposals.

"Many communities that are within close proximity to the airport would like to see no increase in the number of regulated flights or passengers being served at JWA," the analysis said. "Others, many not directly affected by airport operations, would like to see the amount of service at the airport increased."

John Wayne Airport is now limited to 8.4 million passengers per year.

The latest expansion options include one that would remove all restrictions at John Wayne after 2005.

The maximum capacity of the airfield--500 acres with one 5,700-foot runway--is 13.9 million passengers a year, the review said.

Ten loading gates would be added, bringing the total to 24. Daily flights would soar to 181 from 130. Current flights are only partly full because of the passenger limit.

Another scenario would retain the current restrictions.

The remaining three offer different timetables to expand the number of passengers, cargo flights and regular flights through 2015.

If the county and city agree on a plan, it must be approved by two other community groups that signed the 1985 agreement--the Airport Working Group of Orange County and Stop Polluting Our Newport.

Even then, there is no guarantee that extending the court agreement past 2005 would go unchallenged by the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Throughout the discussion, the county and city have stood firm on two additional protections for airport-area neighbors: John Wayne's nighttime curfew and the county's ability to limit engine noise from jets taking off.

County and city attorneys argue that the protections can't be challenged because they were approved before Congress voted to end the ability of airports to restrict operations.

The curfew dates to 1969; the noise limits to 1985.

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