Fares Soaring at John Wayne Airport

Airfares at Orange County's John Wayne Airport took the biggest leap of any major airport in the country in the year through September, climbing 14 percent.


Jan. 26--Airfares at Orange County's John Wayne Airport took the biggest leap of any major airport in the country in the year through September, climbing 14 percent, the federal government said Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Air Travel Price Index, a quarterly analysis of fares paid by passengers at U.S. airports, showed a 6.4 percent increase overall in the third quarter of 2005 compared with the year-earlier quarter. The biggest increase among the 85 largest airline markets, ranked by passengers, was Orange County's 14 percent.

"It's supply and demand," said Tom Jackson, who runs World Travel in Santa Ana. "Since time immemorial, the airlines have been able to charge a premium on the Orange County-John Wayne departures because of its proximity to the customer base. People just don't want to go to L.A. They just don't."

A pact between the county and Newport Beach limits the number of passengers a year at John Wayne Airport. The passenger limit is set at 10.3 million a year through 2010 and 10.8 million through 2015.

In 2005, JWA served a record 9.63 million passengers, up 3.8 percent from 2004.

"We at the airport do not track airfares, and we have no control over the fares that the carriers charge," said airport spokeswoman Courtney Wiercioch. "John Wayne Airport is a highly regulated airport and we do have more demand than available supply."

Thom Nulty, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Aloha Airlines, said his company raised fares in 2005 partly because of fuel-price increases.

Airlines recognize that many Orange County residents prefer to fly out of John Wayne Airport than to drive to Los Angeles International or elsewhere, and are able to charge more because of it, said Nulty, who lives in Laguna Niguel.

"Hundreds and thousands of travelers make that choice every year and don't begrudge it at all because they do have options," Nulty said.

According to the Department of Transportation's data, fares at John Wayne rose 3 percent in the third quarter of 2005 after climbing almost 8 percent in the second quarter. Fares fell slightly in the fourth quarter of 2004, the data showed.

The price index for JWA stood at 113.5 at the end of the third quarter, compared with 99.6 a year earlier. The index began in the first quarter of 1995 at 100.

Over the past 10 years, the biggest fare increases have been at airports in Hawaii, Long Beach and Burbank, the data showed. Fares at Lihue Airport on the Hawaiian island of Kauai rose 122.1 percent from 1995 to 2005.

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