John Wayne Airport will get a new general aviation terminal with customs screening while keeping onsite storage space for smaller airplanes roughly as is, a unanimous Orange County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.
The planned upgrades to general aviation infrastructure at JWA offer new amenities to users of larger, typically noisier business jets while preserving access for pilots of the smallest, generally single-engine planes.
But from the boos and jeers coming from the audience that packed the supervisors’ meeting chamber and an adjoining room, it wasn’t what a lot of people — especially Newport Beach residents living beneath the JWA departure path — wanted.
Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon, however, said she felt positive about the plan.
“Today’s board action is a win for Newport Beach,” Dixon said. “It doesn’t have everything we wanted, nor does it have everything the county of Orange wanted, but it is a fair solution and we are grateful for it.”
She noted the plan has one less support provider than the county wanted earlier. Support providers offer services such as mechanics and fueling.
The new terminal — the airport currently has terminals only for commercial service — will include dedicated, fee-based customs screening for non-commercial international flights. The plan also includes infrastructure updates for buildings and airfield roads to comply with Federal Aviation Administration standards. All the proposed changes will stay within the airport’s existing footprint.
“It is time for this board to move forward with a proposal that balances the interests as best as can be balanced and has the [support] of the local jurisdiction as well,” Supervisor Don Wagner said.
The county, which owns and operates JWA, says the updates would provide facilities to serve an increase in the number of private jets at the airport. Private jets fall outside the restrictions that JWA has operated under since 1985, when a Newport Beach-initiated settlement agreement set limits on noise levels, commercial departures, number of annual passengers and airport capital improvements.
U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) said his office doesn’t have direct jurisdiction over the general aviation improvement program but he said he was “dismayed” that the supervisors didn’t find an alternative.
“It is very clear this issue is of the utmost importance to families and residents living near the flight path,” Rouda said in a statement. “We need community engagement to address this issue, and it was my sincere hope that the Board of Supervisors would delay this vote until a community-supported solution was found.”
State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said she wanted a plan that would “consider the increased greenhouse emissions, noise effects and impacts on the health of our airport-adjacent community.”
“The Orange County Board of Supervisors should not prioritize a handful of billionaires over thousands of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa residents,” she said in a statement.
Several people who commented at Tuesday’s meeting echoed Petrie-Norris’ sentiments about the exclusivity of business jets.
“Instead of catering to the privileged few, please consider the health, quality of life and well-being of your constituents living under or near the JWA flight paths, most of whom will never have the opportunity to even step foot on one of these exclusive jets,” said Newport Beach resident Beverly Moosmann.
Charles Klobe, also of Newport Beach, said the adopted plan is a “clear end-run” around the 1985 restrictions.
“Any person can see this is about money — the possibility for property taxes for the county and revenue for the airport,” he said. “There’s no real consideration given for the residents of Orange County who will be affected by this proposal.”
Patti Janssen said the airplane roar that bears down on her Newport home is “not just noise, it’s violent noise.”
“My property has in essence been condemned, as many others have,” she said. “John Wayne Airport was not intended to be a major airport, and its growth is out of control. The health and safety of myself and many others is in grave jeopardy. The noise and pollution has exceeded any tolerable standard.”
Cities other than Newport also have spoken up. Debbie Bell, deputy city manager of Laguna Niguel, said her city council has adopted a resolution supporting all actions that would reduce airplane noise and other flight impacts.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley launched an online petition asking the supervisors to neither physically nor operationally expand John Wayne Airport. More than 10,000 people signed it.
At the request of Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes Newport Beach, the board included a note that larger private jets couldn’t take over more real estate, restating lease-based restrictions that limit the acreage for them to about 25 of the 60 acres for plane storage and support services. That leaves the balance for the smallest “light GA” planes. The plan calls for three support providers.
A more detailed attempt to control the mix of small and large planes didn’t stand. A compromise proposal floated last month by Supervisor Andrew Do would have allowed for a general aviation terminal while capping the number of private planes based at the airport and increasing hangar space for the smaller planes.
County Counsel Leon Page said that could have presented a legal risk because limiting the hangar mix could be construed as discriminating against certain classes of aircraft while taking control of a matter that is the exclusive jurisdiction of the FAA.
“The airport itself, it’s a freeway, and the Board of Supervisors can no more control who drives on a freeway than it can control who lands on our airport,” Page said.