Orange County complains that flight changes at John Wayne Airport could significantly increase noise

A plane takes off from John Wayne Airport.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County has filed a petition in federal court to join Newport Beach in suing the Federal Aviation Administration, with both trying to block revised air traffic plans for planes coming in and out of John Wayne Airport.

The legal motion, filed Nov. 10, argued that the changes could lead to a significant increase in airplane noise for areas surrounding the county-owned-and-operated airport.

The county’s Board of Supervisors filed the petition in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after a vote to join with the coastal city “in protecting all of our communities,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer.


“We have an absolute duty to speak up for citizens who will be affected by airport noise, and Newport Beach has been so aggressive in doing that. We as a county need to be right alongside it,” said Spitzer, who represents Tustin and other areas of Orange County heavily affected by the arrival of jets.

The legal action targets an environmental impact review conducted by the FAA to determine the effects of the Southern California Metroplex project, which would replace outdated, ground-based air-traffic control procedures with a GPS-based system at 21 regional airports, including John Wayne.

Agency officials had initially said their report revealed no significant environmental impact with the change in flight patterns, but John Wayne officials sent a memo to the county in mid-October saying “there were issues” with the environmental review, Spitzer said Thursday.

On Nov. 8, in closed session with the Board of Supervisors, a consultant hired by John Wayne Airport to review the FAA’s environmental report said he believed it was inadequate, Spitzer said. The consultant told the board that “it was not possible to tell from the review what the noise impacts would be,” the supervisor added.

“I asked him how long he has held the opinion that the environmental impact review was inadequate, and he said about three months,” Spitzer said. “Incredible.”

His colleague, Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Michelle Steel, said in a statement released by the county that full disclosure about the effect of the changes is crucial.

“Our residents are the ones who live every day with aircraft operating overhead,” said Steel, who represents Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and other areas in the path of takeoffs from John Wayne Airport. “The Metroplex project must be clearly defined and the resulting impacts clearly described. Our residents deserve to know whether and how the FAA’s proposed changes may impact them now and into the future.”

The FAA does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Ian Gregor said in late October. He added that the agency focuses on balancing the concerns of local communities with its need for advanced air traffic control procedures.

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Times staff writer Dan Weikel contributed to this report.