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Commentary: Supervisors should think twice before expanding general aviation at JWA

Blackhawk and Apache helicopters from Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County landed at John Wayne Airport earlier this year before heading to San Diego.
(Photo courtesy of John Wayne Airport )

John Wayne Airport has been quietly expanding its service options under our noses, and the upshot is an ever-increasing number of smaller, less-regulated jet flights.

While this will benefit a small minority of passengers around Orange County, it comes at a potentially profound environmental cost, and the residents of Newport Beach and other impacted communities — who had no idea this expansion was going on — will have to cope with the noise and pollution.

My wife and I often walk along the trail in the Back Bay in Newport Beach. We’ve become accustomed to the noise as planes take off from JWA. Recently, as we were walking, I became aware that in addition to the usual disruption, there was a new kind of jet that I had not really noticed in the past. In fact, before I saw any commercial jets, there were at least five of these small jets taking off in a row.

It prompted me to question why there were so many, and how that relates to the recent changes being considered for the John Wayne Airport. In 1985 Newport Beach, local community groups and the county entered into an agreement meant to curb noise and establish a curfew. At that time there were few general aviation (recreational and private) jets at JWA, except small Cessna-type planes. Therefore, no one could have anticipated what is happening today.


Far from the handful of small, privately-owned jets that used the airport three decades ago today, dozens of general aviation jets fly in and out of JWA daily. These jets have full freedom to fly outside of the curfew and only need to meet the outdated 1985 noise requirements. In effect, these flights double the noise and pollution, and do so with none of the regulations involved in a normal airport expansion.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors are responsible to the communities impacted by JWA. They need to redefine general aviation to meet the intent of the use and not allow these passenger jets with commercial type flights. This would make the county supervisors’ upcoming decision easy on the construction of a new general aviation terminal.

There is no new terminal or TSA necessary when a corporate jets flys a CEO to a meeting. The upcoming county decision should not just be about the profit of the airport when the quality of life of county residents are impacted.

I look to the county, cities, local groups and environmental groups to sort out this problem and insure proper usage of our airport with the best possible quality of life to impacted residents. County Supervisors may not be considering the expansion of the General Aviation Facility if they were to fully evaluate the types of small jets currently operating under the guise of general aviation.


Lee Pearl lives in Newport Beach.