A Delta airplane prepares to land at John Wayne Airport on a recent afternoon. Some South County residents have noticed an increase in the frequency and intensity of aviation noise. Photo: Allison Jarrell

OC supervisors host town hall covering changes in flight patterns, noise over South Orange County

By Allison Jarrell

More than 500 concerned South Orange County residents crowded into Laguna Niguel City Hall on May 15 to voice their concerns and hear what Orange County supervisors and John Wayne Airport staff had to say about the recent flight path changes and increase in aviation noise over South County.

Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer hosted the town hall meeting—“South Orange County: Under the Flight Path”—in conjunction with John Wayne Airport and the city of Laguna Niguel. The purpose was to address residents’ concerns regarding plane noise while also presenting information on the Federal Aviation Association’s Next Generation Air Transportation System and the newly implemented Southern California Metroplex project. The two-hour forum also included a question and answer portion, where members of the panel answered questions submitted by those in attendance.

In addition to Bartlett and Spitzer, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was in attendance, as well as staff from John Wayne Airport. Representatives from Rep. Darrell Issa’s office, Sen. Pat Bates’ office and Assemblyman Bill Brough’s office attended the forum, as well as officials from the cities of San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills and Aliso Viejo.

Bartlett noted that FAA officials declined an invitation to the meeting.

“They stated that since a number of public meetings had been held prior to the time of implementation, it was unnecessary to attend another community event on the issue,” she relayed.

The FAA is currently in the process of implementing its Next Generation Air Transportation System and Southern California Metroplex project, which utilize a GPS and satellite-based system that has changed flight plans and altitudes of air traffic across the nation. The change to a satellite-based system was called for by Congress back in 2003 in an effort to improve the safety and efficiency of flights.

But the flight path changes to and from John Wayne Airport have become a source of stress for some South Orange County residents, who say the air traffic has become much noisier and is negatively impacting their quality of life.

The cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach have sued the FAA over the NextGen flight changes, claiming that the FAA’s review of the possible environmental impacts to the surrounding area was insufficient. (The FAA found that there would be “no significant impact” from the flight changes.) The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to join the city of Newport Beach’s suit against the FAA.

The San Juan Capistrano City Council voted on May 16 to send a letter opposing the increased airplane noise to the FAA. Mayor Kerry Ferguson said she is working with area officials to schedule a similar town hall meeting in San Juan.

A grassroots advocacy group called Citizens for No Plane Noise presented data received from John Wayne Airport at a recent San Juan Capistrano City Council meeting that shows a significant increase in commercial jets flying at 4,000 to 6,000 feet altitude over land from 2016 to 2017. According to the group, residents from San Juan, San Clemente, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel have reported experiencing increased airplane noise over their homes as early as 3:15 a.m. and as late as midnight due to cross-traffic from San Diego and Los Angeles.

Bartlett told the packed auditorium on May 15 that she recently traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Orange County’s congressional delegation and FAA officials in order to relay the concerns of South County residents. Bartlett called the meeting “very successful,” adding that the main issue seems to be airplanes taking an “early turn,” which causes the planes to fly over land at a lower altitude than before. Bartlett also acknowledged that cross-traffic is an issue from San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach and from private aircraft.

Bartlett asked FAA officials if it would be possible to direct air control to not allow early turns unless they’re for safety purposes. She said the FAA agreed to look into it and said it was “probably” doable.

“That would be a huge difference for all of us,” Bartlett said.

Supervisor Spitzer said he believes that airlines are having planes fly lower to save fuel and time.

“If you lived in those communities along the departure corridor from John Wayne, you would be angry, too,” Spitzer said. “You would not want that in your community, and they deserve to be protected.

“We are not going to tolerate time savings and fuel savings at the cost of our communities,” he added.

“The fix to this whole problem is actually very simple, but it’s a matter of keeping vocal—they need to know that we’re really serious down here in South Orange County,” Bartlett concluded.

For residents interested in tracking flights and compiling data, John Wayne staff recommended using John Wayne Airport’s VOLANS software, which can be found at www.ocair.com/communityrelations/flighttracking.

For information on the FAA’s NextGen program, visit www.faa.gov/nextgen.

To register complaints, residents can contact the FAA’s aviation noise ombudsman directly by sending an email to 9-awa-noiseombudsman@faa.gov or by calling the FAA’s complaint department at 202.267.3521.

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