*Updated February 2, 2011 3:03 p.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that it has successfully completed tests for a new John Wayne Airport flight path, and planes will start flying the new route in February.
The procedure is the result of a nearly one-year tussle between Newport Beach residents and FAA officials, who agreed to modify a new satellite-based navigation system after residents complained about jet engine noise in the skies above some Newport homes.
Called STREL, the route replaces the DUUKE 1 and DUUKE 2 procedures, which raised the ire of residents on the eastside of Upper Newport Bay and in the Irvine Terrace neighborhood. They said that when planes started using the new system in 2009, more flights flew over their homes.
The FAA modified the route, even though virtually all flights under DUUKE did not fly over the Bluffs homes on the east side of the bay, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. But when the FAA corrected it, the adjustment didn't go far enough, so the agency decided to tweak the flight path some more, said Gregor.
To test STREL, the FAA asked Southwest Airlines to fly 36 flights over a three-day period in January.
Gregor said the planes flew farther to the west, away from the Bluffs community, and in a "tight track that runs approximately equidistant from communities on the west and east sides."
"Based on the results," Gregor said, "we think this procedure will address the concerns that the residents around the airport have expressed."
The new flight procedure will affect about 90 planes departing each day, including commercial aircraft and private planes equipped with the new GPS equipment. It applies only to planes flying to points east of Las Vegas.
Before pilots start using STREL, the FAA will brief air traffic controllers and verify that airlines have loaded the program into their onboard computers.