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NEWPORT BEACH : City Will Protest Cargo Flight Plans

Newport Beach city officials are gearing up to protest an environmental impact report, commissioned by Orange County, that would lay the groundwork for allowing cargo flights at John Wayne Airport.

The freight companies that want the flights--United Parcel Service and Federal Express--have argued that one flight each a day is reasonable. Opponents say that would open the door to gutting a hard-won settlement agreement in a lawsuit over noise.

Under the 1985 settlement agreement and a 1990 county Access Plan, no more than 73 noise-regulated aircraft may depart from the airport each day.

All of those are allotted to passenger carriers, in part because of a provision in the Access Plan giving preference to aircraft with 75 or more seats.

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But last year, UPS sought approval to run one flight daily from John Wayne Airport to its sorting hub in Louisville, Ky. While the county’s environmental study on that request was in progress, Federal Express made a similar application.

The project under study would extend seat preference provisions to include cargo aircraft with a capacity of 55,000 pounds or more. It also includes a review of the UPS ground operations plan and reduction of the passenger aircraft limit by at least one flight.

The report evaluates the possibilities of shifting two, four or six noise-controlled passenger flights to cargo flights at John Wayne Airport. But that could threaten the legal settlement if passenger airlines chose to sue to get their flights back, Newport Beach City Atty. Robert Burnham said.

The county had proposed the alternative of adding two noise-controlled flights for cargo carriers and routing them through the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station if the Federal Aviation Administration would allow it. That plan was rejected as infeasible because of federal prohibitions on commercial use at the base.

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But Burnham said he believes the ban only applies to passenger carriers, not freighters. He added that it would probably be the best alternative for Newport Beach.

“We believe that the analysis of El Toro should have been more extensive and that it shouldn’t have been written off so quickly,” Burnham said.

Some Newport Beach officials fear that allowing any cargo flights at John Wayne Airport would open a Pandora’s box.

Burnham’s letter asks the county for a 30-day extension on the environmental impact report comment period so that the city may expand its argument.

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