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Commentary: Too much additional noise regulation at John Wayne Airport could distract pilots, air crews

A jetliner takes off from John Wayne Airport.
(File photo)

In response to Russ Niewiarowski’s recent comments concerning the noise that John Wayne Airport (it’s designator is SNA, not JWA, and that little difference is probably a window to the overall local outlook) generates, we need to remember that SNA is part of the nation’s overall transportation network (“Ban older planes from John Wayne Airport,” (Feb. 21). As such, it belongs to the people of St. Louis as much as it does the people of Newport Beach.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls major airports, not the local residents. We Newport residents have the unusual situation of SNA’s infrastructure being in Irvine, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Newport Beach and the County of Orange — a difficult situation that is probably by design and complicates any cohesive local agenda.

Takeoffs to the north are non-starters, unless the wind is calm, or from the south, as aircraft generate more lift at slower ground speed and have shorter ground roll when they take off into the wind — not with the wind. Every time you lay on a new noise reduction or specialized departure requirement to aircrew, you introduce another distraction from the primary mission: the protection of their passengers and crew along with the safe operation of their aircraft.

Niewiarowski’s home is apparently under the normal departure path to the airport, and unless he bought it prior to 1940 it was always at least near the departure path. The original Army Air Force runways were aligned 220 degrees magnetic, more in-line with the prevailing wind direction, and taking departures more over Costa Mesa. They were re-aligned closer to 200 degrees magnetic when the airport was converted to civil use in order to place the departure path over less-populated “horse property” in Santa Ana Heights and over the Back Bay.


The letter writer most probably has had his property value at least triple in the past 20 years. If he finds this pre-existing neighboring airport and its associated noise beyond his present tolerance, he might want to consider taking his profits and moving.

The new Boeing 737 Max, and similar aircraft, are larger, quieter and cleaner, but these are not vertical take-off (VTO) aircraft. SNA is one of the cost-challenging major airports in the United States, to be possibly equaled only to one of its possible diversion airports, San Diego International Airport (formerly Lindbergh Air Field).

SNA’s runways are laid-out backward, with the general aviation (little airplane) runway on the heavy-metal side of the airport, causing most aircraft to cross at least one runway in order to get to their departure runway. The heavy-metal runway is far too short, allowing little margin for pilot/equipment error. A major loss-of-life disaster at SNA is predictable and inevitable; additional “local impact” restrictions only increase this risk.

We Orange County residents, of which I have been my entire adult life, as well as we Newport Beach residents, of which I have been for the past 50 years, had the perfect alternate strategy when we cost the Marine Corps several billion dollars to temporarily move from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, a noise-impacted, high-cost-of-living area, to Naval Air Station Miramar, another high-cost, noise-impacted area.


We were then too lazy, too cheap, too stupid and too short-sighted to take advantage of this golden opportunity and allowed a very desirable airport layout to be paved over with housing. Now we’re stuck with a rotten apple, and we’re all going to have to take a big, long bite.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Our Newport Beach Planning Commission has re-zoned and re-branded the traditionally commercial area east of SNA “Upper Newport, ” and is in the process of following our Irvine and Costa Mesa neighbors in allowing high-rise, high-density residential housing.

The associated environmental impact report addresses only commercial air traffic; no mention is made of general aviation in the EIR. And to the letter writer: if you think you’re unhappy with Southwest at 0700/67 decibels/1,700 feet/burning Jet-A, you ain’t heard nothin’ until my Cessna launches to support a Coast Guard Auxiliary Search and Rescue mission at 0400/82 decibels/650 feet/burning highly leaded gasoline directly above these people’s $1 million bedrooms.

ROBERT LANGE is retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a KSNA representative with the Aircraft and Pilots Assn. He is an air transport pilot, certified flight instructor and an airframe and powerplant mechanic.