During the march 2 rush hour, the Thomas F. Riley Terminal at John Wayne Airport (JWA) was dead. There were a lot of cars in the main parking lot, but finding a spot was no problem. There was no one in line at any of the carriers' ticketing desks. There was no one in line at any of the terminal's six metal detectors. There was no one admiring the animation artwork near the boarding gates. Staff at the Orange Grill in the food court milled around while customers at just two tables ate dinner. At Gate 6, just a handful of people stood as an attendant announced the first boarding call.
It was hard to see why the county Board of Supervisors had earlier that morning allocated 13,287,721 commercial passenger seats at John Wayne for 1999 and 2000. Knowing that commercial airliners usually fly out of JWA only 63 percent full, county staff calculated that the 13.3 million seats would translate into roughly 8.1 million passengers for each of 1999 and 2000. In that same vote, predicting that cargo demand would remain flat, the board approved UPS's and FedEx's current 550 all-cargo flights through 2000. The vote was, as is usual in JWA-related matters, unanimous.
These allocations are, in a word, optimistic. Last year, just 7.4 million passengers flew in and out of JWA. And that number-a full million passengers below the operations cap that hangs over JWA until 2005-was down 3.4 percent from 1997. Figures for cargo operations were also down 11.4 percent to 17,829 tons. All of this in a booming economy.
In other words, usage figures for 1998 dropped nearly to 1996 levels. To make matters worse, figures for January of this year already show a 3.6 percent drop in passenger levels and a 7.5 percent drop in cargo tons from this same time last year.
Naturally, county airport propagandists remain oblivious. "Demand continues to rise," warned a recent county mailer sent out to boost a new airport at El Toro. "The enormous demand will leave more than half a million Orange County residents without convenient, cost-effective air-travel options."
The only thing that's rising in this county is the level of bullshit.