OC Officials Back Federal Bill to Reduce Aircraft Noise at John Wayne Airport

OC Officials Back Federal Bill to Reduce Aircraft Noise at John Wayne Airport
A Southwest Airlines jet lands at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., on Oct. 18, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jack Bradley

A bipartisan group of Orange County officials has thrown its support behind a proposed bill designed to reduce aircraft noise at the California county’s John Wayne Airport by providing incentives to air carriers.

The proposed Aviation Industry Assistance for Cleaner and Quieter Skies Act came into effect as a result of combined efforts from the Coastal Orange County Aircraft Noise Mitigation Task Force, a group of local officials organized in July by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach).

Rouda represented the group’s interests by introducing federal legislation that would offer air carriers at the Orange County airport, as well as others nationwide, vouchers for the purchase of new cleaner, quieter aircraft. The bill was introduced on Oct. 13 as House measure 8589 and referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Members of the task force included Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies, Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen, Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, Newport Beach Councilman Jeff Herdman, and Huntington Beach Councilman Patrick Brenden. Representatives of the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also participated.

Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies, a Republican, told The Epoch Times that she supported the effort to reduce aircraft noise and pollution in the county.

“As the mayor of Laguna Niguel, I have valued my involvement on the Coastal Orange County Aircraft Noise Mitigation Task Force. … I am in support of thoughtful airspace operation improvements that reduce aircraft noise and pollution that impact so many Orange County cities,” Davies said.

“Being part of the discussion and having a seat at the table with our congressman, elected officials from neighboring cities, the FAA, and John Wayne Airport has fostered promising discussions and idea sharing that have led to the introduction of this bill.”

The proposed program would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to determine the value of each individual voucher up to $10 million, depending on the difference in emissions between the aircraft being decommissioned or sold and the eligible aircraft being purchased or leased. The program seeks to appropriate $1 billion in federal funds, which will be used until exhausted.

Fred Fourcher, founder of the Southern California Pilots Association, told The Epoch Times that he questioned whether it is the taxpayers’ responsibility to fund the purchase of new airplanes for private companies.

“Should the taxpayers be paying airlines to upgrade their equipment, when they would do that anyway? Will [the changes] actually have an impact on … the quality of life of people underneath the … aircraft?” Fourcher asked.

He likened the bill to a “cap and trade” deal, similar to those offered by governments that aim to limit carbon emissions by issuing permits to companies to incentivize cleaner energy. The companies are taxed if they exceed the limits, but can trade or sell unused permit allotments.

“We’re going to incentivize you through an artificial economy to do something in a direction that we want you to do,” Fourcher said.

Fourcher said that for an airline, “one of the biggest costs is fuel,” and it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fill a Boeing 747 jet. However, quieter planes, like the Boeing 737 Max and Airbus Neo, tend to be more cost-efficient.

He said since aircraft noise primarily comes from the engines, quieter engines would suggest more efficient airplanes. “They kind of go hand-in-hand,” he added.

Since purchasing more efficient and quieter airplanes would save them money in the process, airlines don’t need to be incentivized by the government to buy them, he said.

“Would the airlines have naturally upgraded their fleets with more efficient aircraft because they can operate at a lower cost by doing so? Is this essentially creating an incentive that the airlines would have [or] would not have done otherwise?” he asked.

“[The government] will pay you to go buy those more efficient aircraft,” he said. “Should the taxpayers be funding the bills to pay the airlines to upgrade their aircrafts?”

Rouda said in a July statement that “coastal Orange County residents have raised concerns regarding disruptive aircraft noise” for years, prompting him to organize the task force.

Another bill cosponsored by Rouda—H.R. 5450, the Cleaner, Quieter Airplanes Act—would accelerate research at NASA to develop significant noise and emissions reductions by 2040.

“There’s a bill that has NASA doing research on reducing aircraft noise. That’s a noble goal,” Fourcher said. “And those are the kind of things that government should maybe spend money on that wasn’t that expensive.”

Rouda also cosponsored H.R. 6038, the Aviation-Impacted Communities Act, a bill that would require the FAA to expand federal funding for noise mitigation activities in aviation-impacted communities.

“During my first term in Congress, I am proud to have brought together key stakeholders to reduce aircraft noise and improve collaboration to enact meaningful change,” Rouda said in a statement.

“Since the creation of the task force, I am pleased to report I have heard positive feedback from constituents who have noticed the impact of the changes already implemented due to our communities’ collaboration with air carriers.”

In September, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved new 35-year leases with two companies for small-plane service at John Wayne Airport. The city of Newport Beach, along with other local community advocates, had previously pushed for a ban on commuter and charter jets in the small plane area due to concerns about noise and air pollution.