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John Wayne Set to Expand Flights

Frontier Airlines will join the airport's lineup. Other carriers also will add service in the facility's first major expansion since 1990.

June 24, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Frontier Airlines is gearing up to begin service at John Wayne Airport, and 11 existing carriers are set to add flights in the first major expansion at the regional airport since 1990.

The new flights are expected to be approved today by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and are effective immediately, although Frontier won't be ready to enter the market until later this summer or early fall.

Supervisors last month boosted the number of passengers who can use the terminal each year -- from 8.4 million to a maximum of 10.3 million through 2011, rising to 10.8 million through 2015.

The expansion will secure John Wayne's place as the second busiest commercial airport in Southern California. Los Angeles International Airport is the first by far, serving about 65 million passengers last year. Ontario International Airport was third, serving about 6.5 million passengers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 26, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Aviation -- An article in Tuesday's California section incorrectly reported that John Wayne Airport's expansion will secure its place as the second-busiest commercial airport in Southern California. It will remain the third-busiest, behind San Diego International Airport, also known as Lindbergh Field.

The last time John Wayne expanded was in September 1990, when the existing terminal opened. That expansion had been approved five years earlier as part of a landmark court settlement that established noise and passenger limits at the airport. The agreement between Newport Beach and the county was to expire at the end of 2005.

Both parties last year agreed to a modest expansion of service in exchange for extending airport passenger caps and a curfew on operations from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. through 2015.

Newport Beach has fought for years to limit service from the airport because departing planes fly over homes along Upper Newport Bay. The county first agreed to a nighttime curfew in 1968, a year after the first passenger terminal opened.

The new flight schedule calls for Frontier to begin service with three daily flights to Denver. More than a dozen additional flights will be distributed among the airport's 11 existing carriers. Two new flights have been offered to Midwest Express, which flies to Kansas City, Mo., but airport officials said the carrier hasn't yet accepted them. Under the allocation of flights to be approved today, Frontier has until Oct. 1 to begin service.

The expansion means the average number of flights from Orange County's only commercial airport could jump from about 115 a day to as many as 140 a day immediately.

Pinpointing the actual number of flights is difficult because of the settlement's complicated noise-based formula. Flights by noisier planes are regulated, and those will rise from 73 to 85 a day. Quieter planes, meanwhile, are rewarded with supplemental flights, some of which are granted permanently and some temporarily.

The airport also controls the total number of flights so that the annual passenger limit isn't exceeded.

Even with the tight regulation, most airlines want to serve the Orange County market.

"It's recognized that Orange County has a very dynamic economy and [its residents have] a high propensity to travel," airport manager Alan Murphy said. "Many airlines have told me this is their most lucrative station in their system."

The arrival of Frontier brings a second low-fare carrier to an airport, which had been known for higher fares. The arrival in 1994 of low-fare leader Southwest Airlines began to erode that distinction. Fares to Phoenix, for example, dropped by more than half -- from $148 to $67 one way -- after Southwest added service to that city in 2001.

Fares also have gone down on flights to Sacramento and Las Vegas as Southwest added those cities. Southwest started by offering seven daily flights from John Wayne; it now has 26.

One of the county's goals has been to add competition to the otherwise restricted airport by occasionally allowing new airlines to compete for existing destinations or offer new ones, Murphy said.

ATA Airlines could have started service at the airport but decided against it because there was no space to keep a plane overnight at the crowded terminal.

The growth in flights at John Wayne Airport eventually will mean adding another terminal with six gates.

Architectural and design work is expected to begin next year.

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