Flying John Wayne is turning trendy

June 29, 2004

Alicia Robinson

A record number of travelers have flocked to and from John Wayne

Airport this year.

Airport officials reported 761,268 passengers in May, an 8.6%

increase compared with the same month in 2003. Passenger counts have

been on the rise since March 2002, and the increases have been at

record levels since the end of 2003, airport spokesman Justin


McCusker said.

In the first four months of 2004, the overall number of passengers

increased by 14.4%, with double-digit increases in February, March

and April.

"Now it's not a trend; it's the reality of John Wayne Airport,"

McCusker said. "We're seeing increased passenger levels each and

every month."

He attributed the gains to a strong local economy, increasing

business travel and Orange County's many tourist attractions.

John Wayne is the only commercial airport in Orange County and one

of the most heavily regulated airports in the country, McCusker said.

Governed by an agreement among the Newport Beach-based Airport

Working Group and Stop Polluting Our Newport, Orange County and the

city of Newport Beach, the airport's passenger levels may not exceed

10.3 million passengers a year. A previous cap of 8.4 million

passengers per year was increased to 10.3 million in 2003.

The airport served 8.5 million passengers last year and expects

more than 9 million this year, McCusker said.

Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva, whose district includes

Newport Beach, said the local demand for air travel has been on the

rebound since an initial drop-off after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist


"I think that [John Wayne Airport is] considered to be, not only

by people in Orange County but people that want to come to Southern

California, to be a very user-friendly airport," he said.

Silva expects the airport to reach its maximum capacity but

opposes any future expansion because it negatively affects nearby

homes, he said.

"I think [John Wayne] was never built to be a commercial airport

in that capacity," Silva said, but he added that options for more

airport capacity are nil since voters rejected an airport proposal

for the closed El Toro Marine Air Base.

"That was the only game in town, the El Toro airport, and that

went down in defeat," he said.

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