Passengers leaving from John Wayne Airport in Orange County may start paying a $4.50 departure fee next year to help pay for a planned airport expansion, county supervisors were told Tuesday.
Airport Director Alan Murphy said the proposed fee would help raise a portion of an estimated $440 million needed for a third terminal -- containing six additional passenger gates -- more parking and a U.S. Customs office.
There are now 14 gates in two terminals.
The expansion would provide more facilities at the airport and would increase its yearly passenger count, but the count would remain under its court-mandated maximum.
The addition of a Customs office would allow the airport to add two to four daily international flights to destinations such as Canada and Mexico, Murphy said.
Airport departure fees are not unusual at airports. John Wayne is one of only six large commercial airports in the country that do not have such a fee, airport officials said.
Calling it a passenger facility charge, Los Angeles International Airport charges $4.50 and Ontario International $3, said a spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates both airports.
The expansion is due in part to unexpected passenger growth at John Wayne since September 2001, Murphy said.
The present facility was built to handle 8.4 million passengers a year, he said, and now handles more than 9 million a year. Officials did not say how many passengers the new terminal would add to the yearly total.
"Frankly, we're maxed out at the facility," Murphy said, adding that the airport has experienced long baggage-handling and passenger-screening delays.
Because the airport is in the heart of Orange County, any changes to its size, operations or flight paths are heavily scrutinized by communities and groups.
The planned expansion was negotiated by airport officials, Newport Beach and several community groups in 2002 and approved by the FAA. It will provide more room at the airport, especially for baggage service, , officials said.
The airport operates under a 1985 court order that sets a cap of 10.3 million passengers yearly through 2011, and 10.8 million beginning in 2015.
The proposed expansion was approved as a modification to the order.
Two airlines have expressed an interest in using John Wayne for international flights.
They are Alaska Airlines and Air Canada, which is on a waiting list of carriers, an airport spokeswoman said.
County supervisors are expected to vote on the fee Dec. 20, along with a financing plan for the expansion, which is not now funded.
Newport Beach residents who live near the airport's flight path for departing jets are skeptical of the new plan -- even if it is a compromise the city agreed to, said Mayor John Heffernan. "We're always wary of the airport."
"To those residents living down under the flight plan, it's the biggest environmental problem we have in the city," he said.
The expansion calls for the new terminal to be at the south end of the present facility.
It would add 2,500 parking spaces to the current 8,394 and increase overall square-footage of the airport.
Supervisors are expected to approve financing that could include federal grants and general airport revenue bonds.