Cargo Hatched

The hottest issue right now in El Toro base-reuse politics is air cargo. Proponents such as developer George Argyros and former Newport Beach City Councilman Tom Edwards point to recent letters from the current base commander indicating no local Marine Corps opposition to immediate cargo flights in and out of El Toro as evidence they will triumph. Opponents, most notably the seven cities opposed to the county's international-airport plans, feel a recent decision by the State Lands Commission will help prevent civilian cargo planes from using the El Toro tarmac any time soon.

Missing from this debate is the key question of demand. In a Jan. 20 press conference, El Toro planning head Courtney Wiercioch claimed recent “preliminary project information” obtained from three air-cargo carriers “demonstrates that market demand clearly exists for enhanced air-cargo operations in Orange County.”

The project information-which was not released at the press conference but was obtained by the Weekly through a public-records request-doesn't support Wiercioch's claim. Instead, the information shows two of the three biggest cargo carriers in the nation don't care much about El Toro.

In a Jan. 18 letter to county officials, UPS vice president Matthew J. Capozzoli wrote that his company's “plan represents a scenario that maximizes our conceptual operations at El Toro, and UPS's operation would, in all likelihood, be significantly smaller in scale.” For those needing a translation, Capozzoli offered one of his own: “UPS is very pleased with its operations at John Wayne Airport.”

The plan Capozzoli said would probably be “significantly smaller in scale” is for six arrivals and six departures per week. UPS currently flies just one aircraft out of John Wayne Airport each day. Watch for proponents to spin this one as UPS “doubling” its OC operations.

The Airborne Express proposal was even smaller, calling for just five arrivals and five departures per week. In addition, two arrivals and two departures would be made by a Cessna 208-a single-engine prop plane capable of carrying just 2,000 pounds of cargo. The Boeing 757, the typical air-cargo plane, carries 87,720 pounds of cargo.

Only Federal Express showed any real desire to use El Toro, submitting a proposal similar to the UPS plan. This is hardly a surprise, since FedEx decided in October 1997 to build in the Irvine Spectrum the largest cargo-distribution facility on the West Coast.

Beyond these three companies, The Orange County Registerreported on Sept. 19, 1998, that Emery Worldwide and DHL Worldwide had no interest at all in El Toro.

But this isn't the first time county officials have exaggerated claims about air-cargo demand. On Nov. 20, County Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier said OC loses “$4.9 billion” per year because it doesn't have a proper cargo airport. That number, which turned out to be bogus, has since vanished from county propaganda.

Clearly, county definitions of “demand” have seriously diminished.

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