John Wayne passengers may get new thrill in zigzag takeoff

An airliner lifts off from John Wayne Airport before beginning its steep climb
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In addition to that famously steep takeoff from John Wayne Airport, passengers aboard some departing jets in Orange County might be asked to endure multiple turns as pilots take a zigzag course as they lift off over Newport Beach.

The zigzag takeoff pattern – meant to reduce jet noise in the beach city – would be a first in the continental U.S.

Over the decades, the city has fought and sued in an effort to tame noise from the commercial airport, and flights in and out of John Wayne are now some of the most strictly controlled in the country.


Now the city is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to go a step further by requiring commercial jet pilots to make several turns during departure in order to stay over the Upper Newport Bay rather than “fanning out” over the neighborhoods near the bay.

The FAA has yet to receive the request, but spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency has a “long history of listening to concerns from communities around John Wayne Airport, and will thoroughly analyze any recommendations we receive from them.”

The zigzag course would add another challenge for pilots and another potential thrill element for passengers.

Departing jets currently lift off with an abrupt and steep climb and then reduce power as the plane glides over Newport Beach toward the ocean. Under the proposal from the city, pilots also would be required to turn “two or more times” during takeoff in order to avoid drifting over homes.

The plan was developed at a cost of $75,000 by the city with the help of the aviation consulting firm Naverus.

The proposed route would be implemented as part of the FAA’s “NextGen” program, which is moving airports around the country toward the use of more precise satellite navigation technology — as opposed to traditional ground-based systems — to guide flights.

“This request is another effort to improve the quality of life and reduce the impact of the airport,” Mayor Keith Curry said before the City Council on Tuesday approved sending the request to the FAA.

Such a flight pattern would be technically possible to develop, but the FAA would have to be “willing to accept and/or design it.”

A list of possible regulatory hurdles in the report includes the fact that “a charting standard for the proposed departure does not yet exist and would need to be developed.”

Still, council members said they were happy to be moving ahead with what Councilwoman Leslie Daigle called a “groundbreaking measure” to mitigate the airport’s effects.


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