LA Hex

The county's El Toro office is once again up and running. The army of planners, lobbyists, consultants and attorneys is back, uneasily pretending that a judge's recent ruling that Measure F's spending caps are "vague" means the plan to build a massive international airport at El Toro is back on track.

The restart of the program comes just in time, as the South County cities allied against the proposed El Toro International Airport are promoting a report published in late February by Los Angeles World Airports. That report, "Air Transportation in the Los Angeles Region," outlines the entire Southern California commercial aviation picture for the next 15 years. South County officials are promoting it because it shows that El Toro isn't needed or particularly well-placed to serve air traffic.

Based largely on Southern California Association of Governments studies, the report is biased in favor of regional airport construction and expansion. The report states that by 2020, LA-area passenger demand will exceed airport capacity by 57 million annual passengers (MAP) if no further airport expansion takes place.

"The region must grow its air services to meet the forecast demand," the report concludes. "Failure to expand will cost the region dollars and jobs."

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But the report also notes in the appendix that "there are many examples of activity forecasts that have not materialized because of unforeseen events." It lists two: Washington Dulles, which was forecast to serve 16 MAP by 1980 but was serving just a quarter of that by the mid-1980s, and the new Denver Airport, which was to see 60 MAP in usage in 1995 but served barely half that in 1997.

The report references each of the region's 13 existing and planned airports, including El Toro. Concerning cargo use—one of El Toro's major selling points—the report says Palmdale and the converted March, George and Norton Air Force bases "have almost unlimited airside capacity for air cargo and should be primary candidates for such activity." Forget El Toro.

The county's oft-repeated argument that El Toro would be the "Gateway to the Pacific" is also blunted. "For the foreseeable future," states the report, "LAX is the only airport capable of being the region's international gateway."

According to the report, El Toro's "ability to serve a significant share of international demand is questionable" because "only 20 percent of the region's international passengers are located within 60 minutes of the airport, compared with the 60 percent within LAX's 60-minute access zone. As a result, El Toro's "strongest international market is likely to be direct service to Canada and Mexico."

Unlike locals who have argued that El Toro is a turnkey operation, the report's authors note that El Toro is "not as well-located as John Wayne and will require a substantial investment by airlines to develop new facilities." Sounds expensive. And since airlines like to concentrate their facilities at a single airport rather than split them between two fields just seven miles apart, "El Toro might experience greater success with the closure of John Wayne Airport." This news can only reinforce the widespread South County belief that the county sees El Toro as a way to dump all of Newport Beach's airport troubles into South County's lap.

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