Dogfight ahead over O.C. airport?; More people than ever use it. Neighbors fear expansion is a prelude to lifting usage caps.

Even as the concrete dried, airport planners realized the new terminals at John Wayne Airport would not be enough to support passenger growth. Now, 17 years later, the number of passengers pouring into John Wayne is setting records, and a...


"This is not new; the international traffic is more lucrative, and actually LAX is in a better position to service that," Murphy said. "Right now, we're the only airport in the region that is expanding its facilities."

The county's major businesses would like a much larger airport, but groups such as the Orange County Business Council understand the "delicate balance" that must be kept with business interests and residents near the airport, said Lucy Dunn, council chief executive.

"We're the fifth-largest county in America, and we need a vital airport to help sustain our economy, business and tourism," Dunn said.

International flights to Canada and Mexico would give the airport a higher profile in the region. Alaska Airlines and a Canadian airline have expressed interest for flights to Toronto and Mexico and other Latin American countries once the new terminal is completed, Murphy said.

"In addition, Southwest has requested additional passengers that we haven't been able to grant because of the agreement not to exceed the passenger caps," Murphy said.

For residents who live in the flight path, their fear is that it's only a matter of time before the agreement ends and more flights are allowed.

Nancy Alston, a retired schoolteacher, has lived in Newport Beach for 21 years. Alston and her neighbors don't need a clock to know it's 7 a.m.; they can tell by the whine of the jetliners taking off and flying overhead.

She is a member of AirFair, a group started five years ago. According to its website -- the motto is "10.8 Lock the Gate" at John Wayne -- AirFair seeks to motivate residents affected by jet noise in Newport Beach and other Orange County cities.

"We believe the airport has enough capacity right now to handle the passenger load," she said. Allowing an expansion will only bring more flights and a larger airport after the agreement ends.

"This will be an international airport," she said. "John Wayne has gone from a small little airport into a major player."

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david.reyes@latimes.com

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