JWA may reach Central America

International flights would depart from Terminal C, the hub slated to be finished in December 2011.

May 26, 2010|By Tom Ragan

Orange County is breaking out of its insular self as John Wayne Airport prepares for the possibility of international flights to Mexico and other destinations in Central America, which would follow in the contrails of JWA's new once-daily service to Toronto.

Construction began Tuesday on a walkway that will connect the airport's Terminal B to Terminal C, the future 280,000-square-foot facility featuring six new gates, which will go along with new international flights, said Jenny Wedge, the airport's spokeswoman.

Facilities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will also be built, possibly turning John Wayne Airport into John Wayne "International" Airport. Technically speaking, however, the airport needs 15,000 international passengers a year and more than 2,000 international arrivals annually to be designated as such by the federal government.


"Right now, we have no plans to change the name," said Wedge, adding that the $540 million in improvements is expected to accommodate 10.8 million passengers between January 2011 and December 2015, according to a re-negotiated agreement between Orange County and the city of Newport Beach.

The improvements, she said, will be completed by December 2011. They started in July 2009. The new terminal itself will cost $195.9 million.

Other facilities to be added include a parking structure, three baggage carousels, food and beverage and news and gift concessions stands, along with the expected screening, security and checkpoints for international flights.

If no airline companies are interested in providing international flights, Wedge said, Terminal C can always be used for the overflow of passengers already occurring in Terminals A and B.

"It gets cramped in there right now," she said, adding that last year's total passengers came to 8.7 million, nearly 300,000 above the limit that was set in 1985 under the original agreement struck between Newport Beach and the airport.

At least $180 million of the improvements will be paid for by Passenger Facility Charge Revenues. That is, $4.50 per passenger is set aside to help fund major infrastructure development at airports across the country, the result of a law enacted by Congress in 1990.

To some residents, however, the so-called improvements are merely an "expansion" by the airport, and should be considered such, said Ron Darling, a former member of the Airport Working Group of Orange County.

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