FAA Fails to Fly at Heated Airport Town Hall

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Newport Beach and Orange County residents listen to OC Supervisor Michelle Steel during the John Wayne Airport Town Hall meeting on Saturday.
— NBTV Screenshot

Hundreds of local Newport Beach and wider Orange County residents attended a joint town hall last weekend about John Wayne Airport.

People packed into the community room at the NB civic center and overflowed onto the patio for the Saturday meeting, hosted by OC Supervisor Michelle Steel (whose district covers the city) and Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon.

The meeting got heated over the course of two hours, as some people directly questioned the officials speaking, yelled out a few times during the presentation, and waved signs.

Several speakers thanked the officials for attending, noting that it couldn’t be easy to face such a big crowd with so many upset residents. Dixon tried to keep the crowd under control as she read audience questions and asked a few herself to the airport officials.

Answering the questions was Airport Director Barry Rondinella, Manager of Access and Noise for JWA Nick Gaskins, and Deputy Airport Director of Facilities Lawrence Serafini.

Representatives for the Federal Aviation Administration were notably not in attendance, which upset many people in the audience. They asked the FAA to attend the meeting, Steel confirmed.

Residents expressed concern about controlling the number of and curfew for general aviation flights, which would fall under FAA jurisdiction. Although the airport is owned and operated by the county, and impacts Newport Beach and other nearby cities, the FAA has the final say in a number of local aviation matters, which frustrated many people in the crowd.

Dixon mentioned that it’s important to reach out to newly elected Congressman Harley Rouda, who recently joined the Quiet Skies caucus. He may have some influence over getting the FAA on board, a few people mentioned.

The airport is a “top priority” for the city, Dixon said, and it would be immensely helpful to have Rouda on their side at the national level.

A lot of the town hall meeting centered around the General Aviation Improvement Program for JWA.

On March 4, the city’s Aviation Committee hesitantly recommended alternative three for the General Aviation Improvement Program. Public speakers at the meeting favored no project at all, or, if they absolutely had to choose, alternative three.

Residents raised concerns that the plan will attract planes from the big corporations, encourage high intensity activity, and promote the “uber in the air” concept.

The third alternative would maintain the existing general aviation facilities and correct to FAA standards, which would include: Widen taxiway object free area/realign vehicle service road, modify existing southeast Full-service Fixed Base Operator facilities, and remove 31 tie-down spaces. There would be no new GA terminal.

Under alternative three, the estimate for general aviation jet departures is the lowest out of all the proposed project plans, at 49.8 per day by 2026. Currently, approximately 49.75 General Aviation jet departures per day.

A “no project” option would keep the existing FBOs and would not include correction of existing non-standard design. In 2026, it would increase to an estimated 52.46 GA jet departures per day.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors ultimately decides. They are expected to consider the program draft EIR on April 23.

The city Aviation Committee is scheduled to meet Monday at 4:30 p.m. in the friend’s meeting room at the library.

The full video recording of the meeting can be viewed online at newportbeachca.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/52892/72

For more information, visit ocair.com/generalaviation/gaimprovement or newportbeachca.gov/government/departments/city-manager/john-wayne-airport/jwa-general-aviation-improvement-program

A plane takes off from John Wayne Airport, flying over Newport Beach homes and the Upper Newport Bay.
— NB Indy file photo by Lawrence Sherwin ©
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