Poster Bored

El Toro Airport Watch No. 120

On Sept. 28, 5th District Supervisor Tom Wilson tried and failed to remove a pro-airport poster hanging in John Wayne Airport. Given the poster's poor placement and audience, it's clear county officials are the ones who should worry.

The poster's huge title, "Ticket to Tomorrow," and subtitle, "Get the facts," loom over the John Wayne baggage carousel. Its green-and-purple charts depicting the proposed airport's noise levels, traffic congestion and air-passenger demand hardly scream for attention; travelers line the carousel just a few feet away, their eyes rarely darting away from the luggage steadily gathering before them.

The information presented on the poster—far from any "facts"—are simply retreads of old county spins: the average noise put out by the airport will be less than state standards, auto traffic will be negligible, and passenger use will be nothing compared with other big airports around the country. As is usually the case with county airport materials meant for public consumption, the poster ignores critical safety questions concerning El Toro's runway configuration, the fact that most heavy cargo flights will occur between midnight and 5 a.m., or the fact that the parks county officials plan to place around the new airport will attract wildlife—a big problem according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

More than simple desperation, the new display characterizes the county's let's-try-this mentality that substitutes for coherent political strategy. Its placement at John Wayne Airport of all places shows just how clueless county officials can be. The poster's audience consists of transient tourists and business execs—people who live elsewhere and don't understand or care about local political issues—and locals who are likely to luxuriate in the fact that John Wayne Airport, built to handle 15 million passengers per year, attracts less than half that number. It's a little like getting on the 5 at rush hour and finding you have the whole thing to yourself.

And it's getting emptier. Forty-two thousand more people may have used John Wayne Airport in August 1999 than in August 1998, but that figure is anomalous. For 21 of the past 24 months, John Wayne Airport demand fell when compared with the same month in the previous year. For example, 700 fewer passengers passed through the airport in July 1999 than did so in July 1998. But that's negligible compared to previous declines: 28,000 fewer people moved through John Wayne Airport in June 1999 than in June 1998. May 1999 was even worse, with 56,000 fewer travelers than May 1998.

Put another way, county officials are promoting the wrong airport.

 
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