Monday, February 12, 2007
OC says it can do little to cut LAX traffic
An alliance is studying options, but a key Orange County official says restrictions keep John Wayne Airport from absorbing more flights.
By Doug Irving
A gathering political force seen by some as the best hope for breaking through the coming gridlock at Los Angeles International Airport has yet to win over one critical player.
Orange County's residents make millions of trips through LAX every year, adding to the congestion that has forced politicians from around the region to look for other airports to take some of the overflow. But Orange County itself has refused to even take a seat on a regional alliance working to encourage the growth of smaller, suburban airports.
Los Angeles County's neighbor wants assurances that the alliance won't send more air traffic its way. Its refusal to absorb more flights illustrates one of the real challenges facing a region that will have to accommodate tens of millions more air travelers in the years to come.
"We're willing to participate," said John Moorlach, an Orange County supervisor who would represent the county on the regional aviation alliance. But, he added, "if the purpose of (the alliance) is just to help LAX reduce the number of flights using their airport, then we're not interested."
Orange County's airport -- John Wayne -- handled about 9.6 million travelers last year. It connected them to places as far-flung as Atlanta, Newark and Kona, Hawaii.
But despite the county's growth, its airport can't get much busier. Years ago, the county signed a legal agreement with its residents that put a cap on how many passengers the airport can handle in a year.
John Wayne Airport already is brushing against its limit of a little more than 10 million annual travelers. Orange County officials have been firm in their pledge to keep John Wayne Airport from growing -- even as regional planners look for small airports to take some pressure off LAX.
"My residents -- at least those that are under the flight pattern -- will go ballistic if anything changes," Moorlach said.
Officials from as far away as San Diego and Ventura counties have been meeting in recent months to resurrect an old regional alliance that could address air traffic congestion across Southern California. That alliance -- officially the Southern California Regional Airport Authority -- would foster the spread of flights away from LAX and toward smaller, outlying airports.
But Orange County has been wary in the past of such efforts -- and what they would mean for John Wayne Airport. It also has found itself on the defensive in recent years against proposals to build a new airport on a former military air base in El Toro.
An earlier attempt to form a regional airport group fell apart when Orange County -- along with Riverside County and the city of Los Angeles -- stopped participating. This time, Orange County's representative flatly refused to sit with the other members of the alliance during one early meeting until some "significant concerns" could be addressed.
Orange County, Moorlach said at the time, wants a guarantee that the group won't tamper with the traffic cap at John Wayne. It wants a clear understanding of what the group means when it talks about a "regional" solution to airport congestion and "dispersing" air traffic.
"We have a number of questions," Alan Murphy, Orange County's airport director, told a working group of the regional alliance last week. "We want to talk about protections of the (alliance) members."
Orange County is not alone in wanting to limit the air traffic roaring over its neighborhoods. Both Burbank and Long Beach have sought to restrict the growth of their airports; even LAX has pledged to take steps to ensure its passenger counts don't rise unchecked.
But Orange County could make or break any regionwide plan to handle future air traffic. By some estimates, Orange County alone will account for 32 million air travelers a year by 2030 -- three times the current capacity of John Wayne Airport.
Already, about 6.4 million Orange County travelers make the long drive to LAX every year, instead of using the county's own airport, according to the Los Angeles airport agency. That adds up to about 15 percent of the passenger volume at LAX.
"I think we can get them to the table," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who has played a key role in dusting off the idea of a regional aviation alliance. The group, he added, is not going to "jam air traffic down the throats of those that don't want it."
Those working to resurrect the regional alliance hope to begin putting some meat to the bones of the idea early next month. They see it as a way to bring together officials from across Southern California to encourage and market regional airports that want to grow -- especially those in Ontario and Palmdale.
The group's chairman, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, cast the concerns raised by Orange County not as a roadblock, but as an example of the new spirit of cooperation. There is, he said at a recent meeting, "an open-ended conversation" going on.
"Orange County is a vital member of the group," he said. "We're up for anything that gives us all a sense of comfort."
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Skeptical Orange County resists SoCal airport alliance
About 6.4 million O.C. travelers drive to LAX for flights each year.
The Associated Press
SANTA ANA – Efforts to organize Southern California's airports into an administrative body that will divvy up the region's air traffic are meeting resistance in Orange County.
John Wayne Airport can't handle any more passengers without exceeding a cap on travelers agreed upon with residents, officials said this week.
"My residents -- at least those that are under the flight pattern -- will go ballistic if anything changes," county supervisor John Moorlach said.
Regional airport officials have been meeting in recent months to resurrect an old regional alliance that could address air traffic congestion across Southern California.
The so-called Southern California Regional Airport Authority would foster the spread of flights away from the nearly overwhelmed Los Angeles International Airport and toward smaller, outlying airports.
Orange County has been wary of such efforts, and what they would mean for John Wayne Airport, although Orange County alone is expected to account for 32 million air travelers a year by 2030, about three times the current capacity of John Wayne Airport.
Already, about 6.4 million Orange County travelers drive to LAX each year, accounting for about 15 percent of the Los Angeles airport's passenger volume, according to the Los Angeles World Airport officials.
This growing demand for air travel among Orange County residents will give the county's officials an incentive to take part in an airport alliance, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe said.
http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/ne ... 577197.php