New Airport Will Open on Sept. 15, Unless It Doesn't

If you've been reading the newspaper this past week, you've undoubtedly heard about the expansion at John Wayne airport. It's behind schedule.

Newspapers around these parts appear to think that this is news. One of them, not the one that happens to employ me, even bannered this information across its front page.

Well, I don't know about you, but it takes more than "Airport Won't Be on Time, County Officials Admit" to get me worked up.

Something along the lines of "Airport Work Going Swell: On Time, Under Budget" might have done it.

Nonetheless, county officials seemed a little upset by all this. Some of the supervisors were even reported to have been angry.

Delays don't make government officials look too good, lumping them together on the reliability index with furniture delivery people, plumbers and doctors who are lucky to squeeze you in at 2:30 for your 1 o'clock appointment.

And you know what they say about time being money and all that. Estimates are that the delay will mean at least $5.6 million that the county wouldn't be getting from airlines that were going to use the new terminal.

Or, who knows, maybe some officials were sore because they didn't get the joke that the scheduled terminal opening of April 1, 1990, was April Fool's Day. Nobody likes to admit that they have no sense of humor.

So the new opening date is Sept. 15, the start of Mexico's Independence Day celebration. Airport officials called a news conference on Monday to announce this, officially and for the record, although they had already done so on Friday, and Thursday as well.

Seems they were concerned about not making too big a deal about the whole thing.

Airport Manager George Rebella--"as far as the airport goes, the buck stops here"--started things rolling by getting the bad news off his chest, again.

"Yes, this is a five-month delay," he said. "I hope this is kept in perspective by the news media. The delay, while a disappointment, is not a disaster."

Then Rebella tried to bring this down to the level that we news types might be able to understand (so that we could keep this in perspective).

Surely, he said, each of us has had a personal experience, or knows of someone who has had a personal experience, involving the addition of an extra bedroom or maybe a remodeled kitchen.

"There are almost always disappointments," Rebella said.

OK, so we were disappointed then and we are disappointed now. I felt I could keep this in perspective.

I asked Rebella if the new airport was really going to open on Sept. 15.

"I think it's achievable," he said.

Now, not to count hairs here, but that's what Rebella had said a few moments earlier, even adding that opening the new terminal behind schedule was "achievable without acceleration." I wasn't quite sure what that meant.

"So does that mean it's going to open on Sept. 15?" I asked.

"Well, you know that we are very close to the Newport-Inglewood fault, and there could be a major earthquake," he said. "Or an airliner could crash into the terminal, or we could have a major strike."

I could see that Rebella was a man with a lot on his mind. I thought I'd make things easier for him.

"Barring a major earthquake, an airline crash or a strike, is the terminal going to open on Sept. 15?" I said.

"It's very achievable," he said.

So anyway, call me dense, but by this time I was having a little trouble keeping this in perspective. I asked about that opening day again.

"It's achievable," Rebella said. "You can write whatever you want."

Thanks, George. I will.

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