Editor's note: This corrects the first two paragraphs. The curfew will remain in place until 2020.
NEWPORT BEACH — It seems like a long time from now, but by 2015 Newport Beach residents could be hearing more jets take off each day from John Wayne Airport.
That would be an extreme outcome if local officials and activists fail in their negotiations to continue a cap on flights and other limits to John Wayne Airport, which expire at the end of that year.
That would be an extreme outcome if local officials and activists fail in their negotiations to continue a flight curfew and other limits to John Wayne Airport, which expire at the end of that year.
In the meantime, officials are planning for discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration and air carriers, with the hopes of extending the 1985 agreement.
At the annual Airport Working Group meeting Wednesday, officials outlined their concerns and goals in maintaining caps on passengers and flights, and to preserve the time limits at the county-owned airport.
AWG is a party to the original agreement.
"Working on the settlement agreement will be my top priority," said County Supervisor John Moorlach, who was reelected in November to a four-year term. "We're just going to have a goal of 10.8 [million passengers] and go from there."
Moorlach, who represents Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and other communities, was referring to the current annual passenger cap, which is higher than the current number of passengers passing through the gates. In 2010, the airport served 8.7 million passengers.
While some activists suggested the airport have a lower passenger cap to reflect the current counts, airport Director Alan Murphy said that goal was unrealistic.
"I fully expect passenger levels will go back up," he said.
The biggest pressure to loosen the limits will come from the air carriers. Last month, the FAA released a report that predicted U.S. airlines will double their business in the next 20 years.
Airlines charge a premium to fly from JWA, where more affluent travelers are able to pay, Murphy said.
Newport Councilman Steve Rosansky said that convincing airlines to accept the limits will be a major hurdle.
"There are a lot of companies that like regulation because it keeps competitors out," he said optimistically.
Fortunately for Newport, competition among Orange County cities won't be a factor during this round of negotiations. In 2003, when the last amendments to the agreement were made, South County cities wanted to JWA to accommodate more passengers.
JWA was their alternative to an airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps air station.
This time around, the air carriers are "the true enemy," Murphy said. "The FAA is really going to look to the airlines to see if it's a good deal or not."
The FAA is perhaps the touchiest party to the negotiations. To promote commerce, Congress passed legislation in 1990 that prohibits airports nationwide from restricting commercial aircraft operations without approval from the FAA.
But the JWA "settlement agreement" was established before then, and the FAA approved the 2003 amendments. The original agreement was a settlement from lawsuits between AWG, other activist groups, Newport Beach and the county.
Now, officials want to deal with FAA administrators carefully. Over the past year, some Newport residents have complained to the FAA that a new flight path caused more planes to fly over their homes and more noise. The FAA made a number of adjustments to the route, and plan to implement the new procedure this month.
"We have to be very careful not to irritate the FAA," Moorlach said.