Aircraft Are Flying Too Low, O.C. Residents Say

Times Staff Writer

The closure of the El Toro Marine base -- and the successful blockage of a commercial airport there -- has spawned another airport battle in south Orange County.

Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman wants other area mayors to join her in asking the Federal Aviation Administration to study whether aircraft departing John Wayne Airport are flying too low over their cities.

Flights over south Orange County communities have increased in part because commercial aircraft are now allowed to fly over the closed El Toro airfield.

Iseman told council colleagues two weeks ago that noise complaints from Laguna Beach residents are on the rise. "It's more noticeable in the morning when [planes] intrude on the silence," she said.

The problem stems from eastbound planes that generally take off to the west, over the ocean, and then turn back inland. Laguna residents have complained that the planes are turning earlier, thus flying lower over their homes as they head east.

The earlier turns, which save the airlines time and fuel, are allowed by tower controllers within guidelines approved by the FAA.

"Other areas are concerned down the coast," said Ed Merrilees of the Laguna North homeowners association, who urged the council to contact the FAA.

City officials said they would keep track of flight numbers, aircraft altitude and their destinations before making specific complaints about lower overflights.

Commercial flights can be tracked on the airport's Web site at

FAA officials have said there are no new flight paths or procedures affecting John Wayne Airport.

Residents met two years ago with FAA officials to discuss similar noise complaints -- and came back empty-handed, said Don Knapp, a Laguna North board member. He said he hopes the city has better luck.

"I retired with the idea of sleeping in, and now, at 7:04, 7:06, there they are, every morning," he said. "They're coming in closer, there's no question about that. It's a problem for our quality of life here."

Aircraft noise complaints from south Orange County surged in late 1999 when the FAA reopened airspace over El Toro after the closure of the base. For security and safety reasons, the skies had been closed for 56 years to commercial and private planes.

Though there were no changes in prescribed departure routes, planes quickly fanned out over the unrestricted airspace.

Also, air traffic controllers sent some commercial jets to the previously closed airspace to maintain minimum separation distances required for landing at John Wayne Airport.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 02, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction Aircraft departures -- An article in Saturday's California section about residents of Laguna Beach complaining of noise from aircraft flying out of John Wayne Airport incorrectly reported that eastbound planes head west over the ocean before turning. The departing planes fly southwest.
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