In a rare showing of unanimity between airport operator and noise impacted community, on September 30, 2014 the Board of Supervisors of Orange County, California (“Board”) approved the extension, for an additional 15 years, of a long-standing set of noise restrictions on the operation of John Wayne Airport (“Airport”), of which the Board is also the operator. Those restrictions include: (1) limitation on the number of the noisiest aircraft that can operate at the Airport; (2) limitation on the number of passengers that can use the Airport annually; (3) limitation on the number of aircraft loading bridges; and, perhaps most important, (4) limitation on the hours of aircraft operation (10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and 8:00 a.m. on Sundays).
Reliever airports, once touted as the solution to major metropolitan airport congestion and its environmental impacts on surrounding communities are now facing daunting financial and competitive challenges from the very same airports they were supposed to relieve.
Reliever airports, defined as “general aviation airports in major metropolitan areas that provide pilots with attractive alternatives to using congested hub airports,” Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Advisory Circular 150/5070-6B, Appendix A, Glossary, were typically developed to occupy a market niche in their local regions. For years, they succeeded in their task. Since 2009, however, reliever airports throughout the country have lost substantial proportions of their passengers to the major urban airports. In Southern California alone, reliever airports such as Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) and Long Beach Airport (“LGB”) have seen massive reductions in their passenger counts. Now these airports are forced to take drastic steps to remain viable.
The recently published Southern California Association of Governments (“SCAG”) Draft Regional Transportation Plan 2012-2035, Sustainable Communities Strategy (“Draft RTP”) is a study in contrasts. The Draft RTP is meant to be a roadmap to “increasing mobility for the region’s residents and visitors.” Draft RTP, p. 1. Its “vision” purportedly “encompasses three principles that collectively work as the key to our region’s future: mobility, economy and sustainability.” Draft RTP, p. 1. SCAG’s jurisdiction falls largely into compartments: (1) surface transportation such as roadways and rail; and (2) aviation. SCAG has funding authority over the former, but none over the latter.
The purpose of the Draft RTP is to portray transportation from a broader regional, rather than merely local, perspective. On the one hand, the Draft RTP’s analysis of surface transportation growth estimates, trends and proposed policies for the Southern California Region to the year 2035 contains relatively sophisticated and substantially complete analysis and projections that meet its goals. On the other hand, the Draft RTP’s analysis of aviation trends and policies for meeting airport demand is reminiscent of a high school science project.
The citizens of Newport Beach read with interest the front page article in the Orange County newspaper, the Daily Pilot, a subsidiary of the Los Angeles Times, of July 10, 2011, concerning this weekend’s air show at the Orange County “Great Park.” They looked with even greater consternation at the remarks of one of the attendees who stated “Airplanes in general have been a fascination for people . . . these days you don’t see them flying around as much. And when you have a chance to see them up close and personal it’s a good reason to come out.” Where has this guy been living for the last 15 years – under a rock?
Under the 1985 John Wayne Airport Stipulated Settlement Agreement, as amended in 2003, regularly scheduled commercial users operating at JWA shall not serve more than 10.3 million annual passengers in any year beginning on January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2010, and not more than 10.8 MAP beginning on January 1, 2011 through December 15, 2015. To maintain passenger traffic within those limits, and to balance the needs of the Orange County community for adequate commercial air transportation facilities and the desire of the local community for environmentally responsible air transportation operations at JWA, the County, in its capacity as proprietor and operator of JWA, imposed noise restrictions; implemented Permitted Commercial Operations Hours (commonly referred to as a “curfew”); and adopted limits on the noise levels of aircraft operating at JWA, and the number of passengers those aircraft could accommodate in any year.
Many governmental entities and affected communities have heard a great deal about the John Wayne Airport Settlement Agreement and the restrictions it imposes on noise from airport operations, the most stringent in the United States, including a mandatory curfew for aircraft that exceed specified noise levels in departure. For a full discussion, please see John…
The Federal Aviation Administration’s most recent forecast of future airline passengers at the region’s airports is an eye opener. In the forecast year 2030, FAA is projecting 49.3 million enplanements (98.6 million total passengers) at Los Angeles International Airport; 3 million enplanements (6 million total passengers) at Ontario International Airport; and 6.6 million enplanements (13.2 million air passengers) for John Wayne Airport. This compares to current figures for LAX of approximately 58 million air passengers a year; Ontario, 4.5 million air passengers a year; and John Wayne Airport, 9.8 million air passengers a year.
Of course, 2030 is 20 years away and much can happen between now and then. Therefore, the real eye opener is the comparatively low projected growth of Ontario. Despite the fact that Ontario has new terminals, runways thousands of feet longer than those at John Wayne Airport, and convenient freeway access to all of the Inland Empire as well as northeast Orange County, FAA does not expect it to grow more than 33%, compared to John Wayne Airport’s 38% and LAX’s whopping approximately 60%.
On October 28, 2008, Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell rolled out the FAA’s 2009-20013 "Flight Plan" at a speech in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The "Flight Plan," in which FAA sets goals for itself, is "the strategic plan for the agency, the plan to help [the agency] prepare for the future." In the past year, for example, as Acting Administrator Sturgell pointed out, the FAA "reached 25 out of 29 goals," with the remaining goals "probably" being achieved by November 20, 2008. In other words, the goals set in the Flight Plan are projects and issues that the FAA has good reason to believe it can achieve over the stated planning horizon.
Priority one, according to the Flight Plan, is "dealing with congestion and delays . . . both in the air and on the ground. Toward that end, the FAA plans to "identify and address capacity-constrained airports and metropolitan areas." The FAA has identified Atlanta, Chicago Midway, Fort Lauderdale, John Wayne Orange County (CA), Las Vegas, Long Beach, Oakland, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco as being "capacity constrained" and provided these airports with a "toolbox" which includes "technological, procedural, and infrastructure improvements to be considered for implementation at airports based on additional capacity needs in the future."
In addition, in FY 2009, the FAA plans to "increase aviation capacity and reduce congestion in the 7 metro areas and corridors that most affect total system delay." Those areas are: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Charlotte, New York and Philadelphia. Apart from continuing the controversial airspace redesign for the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Metropolitan area, and the slot auctions for JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, which all spawned lawsuits, the FAA plans on moving forward with the redesign of the airspace for the remaining 7 metro areas.