Orange County Adds Capacity

The John Wayne Airport Improvement Program includes a new multi-level Terminal C with six new commercial passenger gates, a common use passenger processing system (CUPPS), a fully integrated baggage screening system, and much more


With a background in finance and accounting, John Wayne Airport (SNA) director Alan Murphy came to the airport business from the business perspective. Murphy has been at SNA since 1986 working on things like lease agreements between various tenants and airline partners.

In the late ‘80s, Murhpy led the team that built Terminals A and B (the Thomas F. Riley Terminal); he was facilities director until he took the airport director position in 2000.

“There isn’t anything out here that currently exists that I didn’t have a hand in building through some level of involvement,” relates Murphy.

“Especially for the large and medium-sized airports, there’s a lot of recognition now-a-days that the airport is a business in its own right. I have been lucky to be involved in just about all aspects of the airport’s operation, which gives me a good rounded insight and level of experience to do the overall job.”

The Orange County Market

Comments Murphy, “We really have our segment of the market here, and we compete well. One of the great things about John Wayne is it’s large enough that it generates the resources and the markets that make it attractive, but it’s small enough that it doesn’t have the congested feel you may find at a larger airport.

SNA serves some 8.6 million passengers annually. The recession has hit the medium-sized hubs a little more, says Murphy. “While we are doing better than most in that category, it has hit us: in 2007 we had some ten million passengers. It has been pretty flat the last two years; we are starting to see some increases.”

The airport is in the midst of opening up some additional markets, beginning international service to Mexico in June with two flights per day, one each to Cabo San Lucas and Mexico City.

Primarily serving O&D traffic (some 98 percent), people coming to the airport are either flying to or from Orange County; there’s not a lot of connecting traffic.

“Being O&D is one of our strengths,” says Murphy. “Our traffic is based on the inherent demand for travel in and out of Orange County.

“Also, the demographics in Orange County are pretty amazing for air travel. Every other year we do a survey of our passengers; generally we find the median income for passengers is more than $100,000 per year.

“The challenge is that those folks have very high expectations as far as the level of service and facilities here. We have to constantly keep that in mind and make sure that we are meeting that high level of expectation.”

Enter the airport’s capital improvement program (CIP), which has been underway since 2009. The completed Terminal C includes six new bridged aircraft gates, a new commuter terminal, more security checkpoints, and new dining and retail options. All in all, the improvement program adds 282,000 square feet of new space to the existing 448,000 square feet in Terminals A and B.

“The new terminal was built to supplement what we had, and also to take the load off,” relates Murphy. “The existing terminal facilities were built to handle some 8.4 million passengers. While I think we were still providing a very high quality passenger experience, when we got to 10 million passengers, we could see that behind the scenes we were overtaxing our baggage handling systems — and our gate throughput and turn per gate numbers were the highest in the industry.

“So we needed to take the pressure off a little bit; building Terminal C allows us to do that by spreading the operation out, and making the facilities more flexible.”

Another goal was add facilities the the airport had not been able to have in Terminals A and B, such as a Customs and Border Protection facility so that SNA could start looking at some limited international service.

That has opened up some potential for service to Mexico, which the airport has been focusing on developing for the last nine months.

“We’ve got two operations to Mexico starting in June with Air Tran; and we have quite a bit of interest from some other carriers, including some foreign flag carriers,” explains Murphy.

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