John Wayne Airport will update private plane facilities, but county leaders are planning limits on jets
Orange County leaders are finalizing plans to upgrade John Wayne Airport’s facilities for general aviation – hobby planes, corporate jets and the like – but with limits on the number of turbojets to be based there.
County supervisors on Tuesday, May 7, heard from several dozen speakers who feared increased noise and air pollution from more private aircraft. Supervisors then decided to come back in two weeks to consider a revised plan for improvements.
Airport officials had recommended a project that would have added a third full-service aviation company to the two that now provide fueling, maintenance, hangar space and other services to non-commercial planes. It also would have included a terminal to serve private aviation with space for customs and Homeland Security operations.
The alternative proposal supervisors want to hammer out in detail would reconfigure general aviation facilities to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards, and would seek bids to improve services and add to hangar space, with particular attention to smaller “light general aviation” such as Cessnas and Pipers.
But the number of leases for full-service companies wouldn’t increase, no general aviation terminal would be built, and the number of turbojets to be based at the airport would stay at the current level of 65 jets. Turbojets include charter planes and other luxury private aircraft that in some cases book and sell seats.
“We want this. We’re comfortable with this,” Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon said of the final version of a plan the supervisors came up with.
The city hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a lawsuit, and longtime Newport Beach activist Allan Beek directly threatened one in comments to the board about what he called its “sham” environmental report on the proposed airport changes.
Residents from the ring of cities nearest the airport or in its flight path, including Costa Mesa, Irvine and Laguna Beach, have protested anything that would increase flights at John Wayne, citing excessive noise and air pollution concerns.
Commercial airlines at John Wayne Airport are restricted by a 1985 legal settlement that sets an overnight flight curfew and caps the number of annual passengers, but most general aviation isn’t subject to the agreement and need only obey noise limits.
The airport can’t legally restrict private planes from landing there, but residents hope that not inviting more jets to park at John Wayne will help keep down the number that visit.
Members of the Southern California Pilots Association, many of whom fly recreationally, had worried that they’d get squeezed out to make room for bigger and more lucrative jets, but the plan that will come back to supervisors May 21 would call for more hangar space for them.