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Newport Beach OKs study of alternative takeoff patterns at John Wayne Airport

Newport Beach OKs study of alternative takeoff patterns at John Wayne Airport
Neighbors of John Wayne Airport in Orange County are seeking to reduce noise from planes. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Could a curving takeoff out of Orange County's John Wayne Airport mean greater peace and quiet for residents below? Newport Beach officials want to study the idea amid fears that new flight plans proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration could further concentrate air traffic over noise-plagued neighborhoods during peak hours.

City Manager Dave Kiff won approval from the City Council last week to work with airport officials and the FAA to consider an alternative departure pattern that would match the contours of Newport Bay, keeping planes over more open water and lessening noise.

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Pilots would use navigation technology to conduct a series of bends and loops across the center of the bay.

"Having more curves in the Upper Bay departure paths might keep more planes further from homes on each side of the bay and may further reduce noise impacts," Kiff wrote in a staff report.

Kiff said the curved departure path also might help reduce the frequency of airplanes flying over specific neighborhoods such as Ruby Avenue on Balboa Island, where residents say they see planes a few minutes apart at peak travel times.

Members of the Balboa Island Improvement Assn. expressed support for such a plan, which was first outlined in a 2012 city-commissioned study.

"We're very pleased the city is moving forward with this plan and taking action on this issue," said Lee Pearl, the association president. "They took a positive step."

The contour idea took on new urgency after the FAA proposed narrowing flight paths at 11 Southern California airports, including John Wayne, which sits on unincorporated land adjacent to Newport Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana.

The FAA wants to replace traditional ground-based air traffic control with satellite-based technology at those airports.

The agency contends that the Next Generation Air Transportation System can save fuel, reduce emissions and delays and shorten flight times by establishing flight plans that are more confined. The FAA plans to roll out the system at John Wayne Airport within a year.

The new system will allow programming of a precise takeoff path, which could further concentrate flights over residential areas. Homeowners in Newport Heights, Balboa Island and Peninsula Point, who have complained for decades about pollution and noise, fear conditions could worsen.

"The NextGen system using GPS has increased the accuracy of the departures to keep planes in their exact lane," the Balboa Island Improvement Assn. wrote in a letter to the FAA last year. "This technology may actually be increasing the negative environmental impacts on those directly under the departure pattern."

An agreement brokered decades ago established a flight curfew and limits on noise, passengers and departures at John Wayne. In 2014, that agreement was extended through December 2030.

As part of the pact, the county established seven noise monitors along the airport's departure corridor. For years, air carriers used noise-abatement procedures during departures, such as ascending rapidly and "throttling back" the engines when flying over homes. Recent technology can reduce the sound of the engines, and many airlines no longer need to use those maneuvers.

Kiff said he will work with the airport and the FAA to determine how the altitude of planes departing from John Wayne has changed over the years and whether different noise reduction techniques are needed.

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He cautioned residents and city leaders against getting their hopes up about influencing the FAA's plans.

"The FAA doesn't have to listen to us," Kiff said. "It could die on the vine, but they have been willing to listen to communities, including ours, in the past."

Fry writes for Times Community News.

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