Wednesday, August 6, 2014
(Orange County) John Wayne Airport can do more, grand jury finds
August 5, 2014
Orange County Register
By Nicole Shine, Staff Writer
John Wayne Airport’s flights and parking are expensive, and if it wasn’t hampered by decades-old strictures, it could make the county’s economy move and work faster.
Orange County grand jury handed down those findings in late June in a 67-page report. Some lawmakers and residents say its recommendations are puzzling, at best.
The grand jury recommended extending one runway to accommodate heavier planes, lowering long-term parking fees, instituting policies to woo more business and leisure travelers, and building a special lot for motorists waiting to pick up passengers.
Supervisor John Moorloch, whose district includes neighboring Newport Beach, said he found the grand jury recommendations baffling. He said the idea of extending a runway in a heavily populated area showed “a naivete that is almost eye-rolling.”
“It doesn’t reflect what the community is pursuing,” he said. “Increasing use of Ontario Airport has been the focus, and that’s where it should be.”
The report also says the airport is operating well below capacity and could have served roughly 1.6 million more passengers in 2013. In light of its routes to Mexico and Canada, the grand jury suggested the airport add “International” to its name.
The report comes at a critical juncture. Late next month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve an environmental study of a proposed amendment to the landmark Settlement Agreement that has capped flights and passenger levels since 1985. The amendment, considered crucial to those who live under the flight path, also reinforces nighttime flight curfews at the regional airport.
The report took aim at the pending Settlement Agreement in several areas. In one, they referenced an airfare study that concluded, “Orange County passengers can expect little or no airfare relief in the future if the Settlement Agreement continues to limit the number of flights and passengers in the face of growing demand for air travel.”
The grand jury didn’t explain why its report coincided with the pending Settlement Agreement. The panel also doesn’t, as a rule, make itself available for interviews.
The report says stakeholders were involved as it gathered information, but Moorloch said he wasn’t consulted. Otherwise, he said they would have known the parking lot they recommended was already in the works and is expected to be ready early next year.
Melinda Seely, who heads a group working to curb airport expansion, was interviewed. The Newport Beach resident said she was surprised and puzzled by the grand jury’s recommendations.
“We have been working so hard to contain the airport at its current levels,” said Seely, the president of AirFair. When she read the report, she said, “it was like what planet are they on?”
The grand jury last looked at the airport in 2003 when, in the wake of 9/11, its focus was security.
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