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Orange County

Airlines Want End to Noise Limits

Aviation: Restrictions at John Wayne, including nighttime flight curfews, should end in 2005, trade group says. City, county seek extension to 2015.


A powerful trade group of the nation's airlines will fight a proposal by Orange County and Newport Beach to extend landmark noise limits at John Wayne Airport, including preserving its nighttime curfew.

An attorney for the Air Transport Assn. warned county officials this week that airlines believe the constraints on hours of operation, jet noise and the number of passengers each year must end as scheduled Dec. 31, 2005.

The deadline is contained in a 1985 court agreement that governs airport operations. City and county officials hope to extend the agreement next month until 2015, with a slight expansion of flights.

Katherine Andrus, assistant general counsel for the association, said the county will have to conform to the 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act, a federal law that ended the power of local governments to limit airport activity. The law also requires airlines to replace their fleets with quieter jets, a conversion to be completed by 2003.

"There is no mention of the requirements of federal law" in the county proposal to extend the restrictions, Andrus wrote to local officials. It "fails to recognize that operations at John Wayne Airport will be unconstrained by the agreement as of Jan. 1, 2006."

Michael Gatzke, who has represented the county on aviation issues for 30 years, said officials will defend their right to continue the curfew and other airport limits. He added that the restrictions are contained in ordinances passed before Congress changed the law in 1990.

The county's attorney noted that the airline industry group's perspective was expected because it generally opposes operational restrictions at airports. "We'll deal with it as part of the environmental [review] process," Gatzke said.

The showdown comes as voters prepare for Measure W, a March ballot initiative that calls for an urban park instead of a commercial airport at the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Newport Beach officials, pushing to prolong the controls, fear that pressure will grow to expand John Wayne if a new facility isn't built at El Toro. Newport Beach and other cities near the airport benefit from the curfew and limits on jet noise.

The restrictions resulted from a 1985 settlement signed by Newport Beach, the county and two neighborhood groups that fought airport expansion. A federal judge accepted the agreement.

John Wayne Airport is one of two California airports that restrict the number of daily flights. The other is Long Beach Airport, with a limit of 41 commercial flights a day. Restrictions there also were grandfathered in because they were approved before 1990.

At John Wayne Airport, airlines are limited to 73 daily flights using louder aircraft and bonus flights for airlines using jets that create less noise on takeoff. There are about 130 commercial flights a day.

The county, which began enforcing a nighttime flight curfew in 1968, bans commercial takeoffs between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and arrivals between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The settlement also limits the airport to 8.4 million passengers a year through 2005. About 7.3 million passengers used the terminal last year.

Under several expansion options being considered by city and county officials, the passenger cap could be eliminated immediately. The preferred option calls for no more than 10.8 million passengers a year.

In addition, as many as 10 loading gates would be added, bringing the total to 24. The number of daily flights would jump as high as 181. More cargo activity would be added to the present two flights a day.

If the county wants to keep its restrictions, Andrus said, it would have to comply with the 1990 law, which includes a comprehensive noise study proving that the controls would not hurt interstate commerce. The prospect is so onerous that no airport has been granted a waiver to the 1990 law.

In October, voters endorsed a curfew for Burbank International Airport, which is being challenged in court. The restriction is part of a measure that prohibits the city from approving airport construction or renovation unless certain conditions are met.

The Burbank measure forbids the city from adding new runways, lengthening existing ones or building a new terminal without approval by two-thirds of the city's voters.

The Federal Aviation Agency has insisted that Burbank cannot impose a curfew without first conducting a noise study. That study, which is underway, will not be finished for a year.

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