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Opinion

Commentary: General aviation compromise moves Newport Beach closer to its goals

Crows fly over the runway at John Wayne Airport on Wednesday, March 7.
Crows fly over the runway at John Wayne Airport on Wednesday, March 7.
(File Photo)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently certified the environmental impact report for the John Wayne Airport General Aviation Improvement Program (GAIP) and advanced a project plan that includes nearly every element the city of Newport Beach advocated for during the past six months.

It was the first leg of a marathon, and the city of Newport Beach is now ahead. As proposed, the GAIP will take seven years to complete and likely won’t commence for at least nine months.

When the board first considered the GAIP in May, the project alternative Newport Beach championed was soundly defeated on a 4-1 vote. Board members appeared to support county staff’s recommendation for a plan we felt would have the most adverse impacts on our community.

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Supervisor Andrew Do intervened and sought a compromise. The board delayed its decision to give county staff time to analyze his ideas.

As the weeks went by, no compromise solution was finalized. Then, in advance of the June 25 board meeting, county staff submitted the same recommendation as it had in early May for the project alternative we strongly opposed. We braced for round two of the fight.

The day before the board meeting, we learned of a new proposal advanced by Supervisor Michelle Steel. It included almost everything Newport Beach wanted.

We wanted a plan that preserved space for the general aviation propeller aircraft. The proposal set aside more than 34 acres, the majority of the space available, for these smaller and quieter planes.

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Further, it called for land use and lease restrictions on certain airport parcels to preserve these areas for smaller general aviation aircraft, and limit the size of aircraft that could be stored on them, for many years to come. And it included just two, full-service Fixed Base Operators, the private companies that provide services to the general aviation community.

Had a third FBO been approved, we believe JWA would have seen increased operations. These conditions were better for Newport Beach than any other option still being considered by the Board of Supervisors.

Over our previously stated objections, the proposal contained a General Aviation Facility, a space used for processing international general aviation passengers, albeit with the limited hours of operation.

Though disappointed, we knew we needed to let go of the GAF fight, at least for now, to ensure that the small general aviation propeller aircraft, which have less impact on Newport Beach, would retain a significant presence at the airport. We were not willing to risk losing that gain and have the board move forward with county staff’s recommendation.

On June 25, Steel’s compromise proposal was unanimously approved. We believe it was a positive first step, but know there’s a lot more work ahead as the county has more key decisions to make. The city will continue to advocate for all measures that protect Newport Beach.

Understandably, some misinformation about the board’s actions and the city’s efforts has spread throughout our community, perhaps due to the complexity of the GAIP process and outcomes. We would like to take this opportunity to clear up the confusion.

The GAIP will not increase the physical size of the airport. JWA’s footprint will remain the same.

The GAIP will not affect the existing noise curfews for commercial or general aviation, which have been in place for over 30 years. Yes, there is a curfew for general aviation, but unlike the nighttime prohibition on commercial operations, the general aviation curfew is noise-level based only.

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The GAIP will not cause general aviation aircraft to fly at all hours. General aviation aircraft, including corporate jets, can already fly in or out of JWA at any hour of the day or night as long as they can do so within the established noise limits. While we would like to see the same curfew hours for general aviation as commercial aircraft, unfortunately that would necessitate changes to federal law.

The city is in this for the long haul and the next leg of the marathon has begun. To learn more, please visit newportbeachca.gov/gaip.

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


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