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Dispute May Divert Travelers to John Wayne Airport : Transportation: O.C. officials expect some airlines to try to shift passengers in event of a shutdown at LAX.

TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

If there is a shutdown at Los Angeles International Airport in its dispute with airlines over landing fees, officials at John Wayne Airport expect some carriers to attempt a major shift of passengers to facilities here.

No airline has as yet asked for permission to add additional flights or fly heavier loads that might cause its aircraft to exceed the airport’s noise limits, or the annual limit on the number of passengers that can go through the Thomas F. Riley terminal--8.4 million.

Even if waivers of the rules are sought, they could not be granted unilaterally by the airport staff, said airport spokeswoman Pat Ware. Rather, they would have to be negotiated with the parties to a 1985 agreement that settled a lawsuit in which Orange County sued the city of Newport Beach and several homeowner and environmental groups. The county wanted the right to expand the airport’s use.

Ironically, if waivers were granted, it would cost the airlines more to use John Wayne than LAX.

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The dispute in Los Angeles centers on landing charges. John Wayne Airport charges $1.66 per 1,000 pounds of landing weight. LAX charges $0.51 and wants to go up to $1.56. Landing fees generate about $8.1 million annually to John Wayne Airport revenue. The fees at John Wayne are about mid-range for this size airport, airport officials have said. Currently, LAX gets about 15% of its passengers from Orange County.

There is precedent for waiving the rules at John Wayne under the 1985 agreement. At the time of the 1992 riots, airlines shifted passengers to John Wayne when possible because of flight cancellations at LAX due to gunfire and fires near the airport, as well as problems in getting ground crews to work.

During the riots, airport officials said, some airlines were granted permission to exceed their noise limits--which are averaged quarterly--after Newport Beach officials agreed not to block the action.

“The only reason there were waivers granted was for public safety,” Ware said.

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Doug Scherf, American Airlines’ manager at John Wayne, said Monday he knew of no contingency plans being drawn up in case LAX service is curtailed.

“I’m not sure that John Wayne would even be the answer, since there are constraints, including the airport capacity agreement,” Scherf said. “The county would have to be involved in any decision like that. . . . Right now, it’s too early to say what will happen.”

Constraints include the inability of John Wayne to handle overseas flights or planes larger than the wide-body Boeing 767. The largest jet at John Wayne is the Boeing 757. DC-10s and Boeing 747s cannot use the airport due to its short runway, as well as noise and weight restrictions.

American’s Scherf said Ontario International Airport is equipped to handle the larger jets.


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