Commentary: County proposal for general aviation at John Wayne Airport could mean more noise, air pollution

John Wayne Airport is home to about 500 general aviation aircraft and has about 50 such departures a day.
(File Photo)

John Wayne Airport has a project pending called the General Aviation Improvement Program (GAIP). The County of Orange, the airport’s owner and operator, says the airport’s general aviation facilities are aging and need to be updated to comply with current Federal Aviation Administration standards. This seems reasonable, and the Newport Beach City Council unanimously voted to support just that — the updating of JWA’s general aviation facilities to current FAA standards.

We recently learned, however, that JWA staff is recommending the approval of a project alternative that will not only provide these updates, it will result in an expansion of the airport’s general aviation facilities and amenities. Especially troubling, this alternative will lead to an increase in the number of corporate and private jets that fly over our community and other Orange County cities. While this will not be a physical expansion of the airport, it will be an operational expansion. Thus, this proposed plan should be called the “General Aviation Expansion Program.”

It would reduce the airport’s storage capacity for light general aviation (the smaller and quieter aircraft such as single- and twin-engine planes) to make room for storing more corporate and private jets. It also contains new accommodations for security, customs and immigration to make JWA more appealing for private jet passengers, including international travelers.

O.C. commission and supervisors to weigh plan to boost general aviation at John Wayne Airport »

This would certainly encourage more private jet utilization of JWA. Further and equally concerning, statements in the plan’s draft environmental impact report (EIR) imply that the county is considering expanding commercial operations, such as regularly scheduled commercial charters, into an area of JWA that now supports light general aviation.

The City of Newport Beach, its Aviation Committee and several of our city’s aviation-focused community groups reviewed the draft EIR for the expansion program, and we all came to the same, clear conclusion. The proposed project and two of the alternatives, especially the alternative preferred by JWA staff, will negatively impact the quality of life in communities surrounding the airport.

If JWA’s recommended project alternative is approved, expect more. More corporate and private jets. More general aviation jets based at the airport. More travelers utilizing JWA to enter or depart the U.S. More jet arrivals and departures over our community and all the communities surrounding the airport. And more noise and pollution for those living and working under the JWA arrival and departure corridors.

In addition to the noise and air quality impacts, we have serious concerns about allowing security screening and customs and immigration services at a general aviation terminal. These functions would be managed by the privately held companies that serve the general aviation community rather than in the main terminal, under the purview of JWA’s professional staff. The program must not sacrifice safety, security and accountability for the convenience of a select group of airport users.

The Board of Supervisors will be asked to certify the draft EIR and approve the program on April 23. If you have concerns about this project, now is the time to tell the Airport Commission (it meets Wednesday ) and the Board of Supervisors. Go to for information. We also encourage you to visit the city’s website at to learn more about the county’s plan.

Diane B. Dixon is the mayor of Newport Beach. Jeff Herdman and Kevin Muldoon are councilmen.