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Change in tack for battling JWA noise

Newport residents hoping technological advances will do what politics and a ballot measure failed to accomplish.

May 03, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • An American Airlines flight prepares to land at John Wayne Airport in this file photo.
An American Airlines flight prepares to land at John Wayne… (FILE PHOTO )

A mechanical shriek followed a low rumble as the Boeing 737 came closer, a looming albatross partially obscured by a thin, misty cloud.

Within moments, it had passed and was soaring over the gunmetal waters of the Upper Newport Bay and toward the ocean.

Then, the jet did something it wasn't supposed to do: It flew straight ahead.

"He didn't turn," observed Ken Shapero, a GE Aviation Systems official, peering skyward.

The plane, striped in Southwest Airlines' distinctive yellow and red, should have curved left to stay roughly over the bay to comply with a flight pattern aimed at protecting residents from noise. Instead, the craft roared right over upscale houses on a bluff, where families living in Newport Beach's Westcliff and Dover Shores neighborhoods were starting their days.

A casual observer might not have thought much of its path. After all, planes have criss-crossed the skies over Newport for decades, as nearby John Wayne Airport grew from a private landing strip in the 1920s to a multimillion-dollar operation, with international flights to Mexico and Canada.

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But for Newport Beach residents living under the airport's departure path, that 737's flight represented countless battles fought to stifle the noise disturbing what residents say are otherwise just about flawless communities.

Indeed, the city's residents and politicians spent much of the 1990s fighting unsuccessfully to turn the shuttered Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro into an airport in hopes of diverting the roar of jetliners to southern Orange County.

But when voters chose to turn the Marine base into parkland instead of an airport, Newport's leadership turned away from politics and toward technology in its quest for quieter skies.

"The airport is the No. 1 quality-of-life issue in Newport Beach," said Mayor Keith Curry. "We'll do anything we can to reduce the impact and noise to our residents."

The city's latest effort, the result of a $75,000 report by GE Aviation Systems division Naverus, would have John Wayne as the site of a pilot program for the regular use of a departure procedure now reserved stateside for especially difficult take-offs surrounded by tough terrain.

Pilots departing from Juneau, Alaska, for example, have special permission to use the more-precise form of GPS navigation to help departing aircraft avoid mountains.

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