Departure Overview

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An Overview of Departures from John Wayne Airport (JWA) - August 2011


For nearly three decades, the City of Newport Beach and local community groups like the Airport Working Group (AWG), Stop Polluting our Newport (SPON), and more recently, Air Fair, have strongly advocated for limits on the amount of commercial air traffic departing from John Wayne Airport (JWA). Though the City has had a key seat in many discussions concerning JWA operations, it is important for the community to understand the roles and responsibilities of the public agencies involved. 

  • The City of Newport Beach (City) does not own or manage the operation of John Wayne Airport (JWA). It is not even within the city limits of Newport Beach – the airport remains “unincorporated” and not in any city.
  • The County of Orange (County) operates JWA, but has no control over airplane departures.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls airplane departures at JWA. The FAA is solely responsible for the vectoring and sequencing of airplane within Southern California’s airspace and on the ground within each airport.

The limited amount of control that the City has over JWA operations is pursuant to the JWA Settlement Agreement (see below) which generally caps the amount of passengers using JWA in any one year, limits the average daily departures of the loudest commercial planes, noise threshold and JWA’s hours of commercial operation.

John Wayne Airport Settlement Agreement – 1985 and 2003
In November 1985, the County of Orange, the City of Newport Beach, SPON and AWG settled a longstanding dispute between the County and the City concerning the development and operation of John Wayne Airport. The “1985 Settlement Agreement” represented a compromise between the parties as to an acceptable balance between demand for air travel services in Orange County and any adverse environmental effects associated with the airport’s operation. The agreement was modified and its term was extended in 2003. It is now due to expire in 2015, although portions of a related noise ordinance do not expire until 2020. The City and its community partners have already started discussing another extension of the agreement with the County.

Following the 1985 Agreement, the U.S. Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) in 1990. The 1985 Agreement and its extensions are “grandfathered in” under ANCA, provided that any extension does not further limit or restrict operations at JWA. The 1985 Settlement Agreement now stands as the most restrictive of its kind in the United States.

The FAA is an important partner with the County and City in keeping JWA a “community-friendly” airport. However, the FAA’s role is to improve the safety and capacity of US airports, when demand seeks additional capacity. It is the City’s intent not to challenge the FAA’s authority or ability here – in effect to work closely with the FAA on issues of mutual concern, but to acknowledge the existence of ANCA and the FAA’s universal role to protect safety.

Airplane Noise
Noise is always a critical issue when you live near an airport. JWA has 10 noise monitoring stations – seven on the departure corridor and three on the arrival corridor. Planes departing JWA are cannot exceed the noise monitor thresholds. (View JWAs Access & Noise web page).  Noise is directly addressed in the Settlement Agreement and dictates by way of specific noise characteristics whether an airplane is a Class A or Class E airplane for the purpose of limiting the number of departures or the number of annual passengers at the airport.

In the 1970s-1990s (and beyond) when planes were louder, these stringent noise thresholds caused pilots to fly a fairly dramatic ascent from JWA. A faster push up to a certain altitude, then a throttle-back, was a common technique used by the airlines to stay below the noise threshold. As planes have become more efficient, they have become quieter. The quietest plane found at JWA in 1985 is now the loudest plane. As a result, fewer planes have to take that dramatic take-off procedure to meet noise threshold. 

The City’s primary goal in the future is to protect and extend the Settlement Agreement’s protections. If the City loses the limited amount of control currently allowed under the agreement, we can lose the current limits on the number of airplane departures, the annual passenger caps, and hours of operation. Preserving and extending the JWA Settlement Agreement beyond its 2015 expiration date is essential to the quality of life of our community. 

About the STREL Departure Procedure
At the same time as the City is working toward pushing out the 2015 expiration, the FAA has worked independently across the nation to implement what it calls its “NextGen” Goals. NextGen is an FAA initiative to improve safety, increase capacity, and avoid “air gridlock” using technology. One goal of NextGen is to implement technology-based departures known as “Area Navigation” or “RNAV” for busy airports. RNAV enables equipped airplanes to fly on any desired flight path within the coverage of ground- or spaced-based navigation aids.

The FAA’s goal is to improve safety and maximize airspace by more finely pinpointing departure and arrival patterns. The City is not necessarily a fan of RNAV because where departures were once “fanned out” across more of the community (more people impacted less directly), RNAV narrows departure channels, resulting in less people impacted but more directly.

The “STREL” was the name given by the FAA to the RNAV departure procedure implemented on March 10, 2011 for JWA. STREL was the third iteration of a JWA RNAV. It followed DUUKE 1 and DUUKE 2, which the City asserted (at the time) didn’t quite mirror the traditional departure patterns “up the middle of the Back Bay,” instead directing planes too far to the immediate east, over Eastbluff. STREL Waypoint

The STREL is a departure pattern that applies only to flights leaving JWA and going east of Las Vegas, Nevada, provided that the planes have the proper technical equipment. Approximately 50 percent of the flights departing JWA are STREL departures. More precisely, STREL is a point approximately 1.6 nautical miles off of the coastline (33 34' 17.50"N 117 53' 57.60"W ). Noise Monitor 7 –on top of the knoll near Newport Dunes and Back Bay Bistro, (known to the FAA as a waypoint called TOING), is the waypoint prior to the STREL.  Click the image to the right to view the full sized STREL Waypoint.  

Since the STREL was implemented, residents from various parts of town have complained that flight noise is louder and/or they are seeing planes where they used to not see them. City staff took the concerns seriously and made multiple on-the-ground observations from around town – including at individual homes, around Newport Bay, at Jamboree Road and Coast Highway, in Jasmine Creek, at Noise Monitors 3 through 7, and at Inspiration Point in Corona del Mar. Thus far, we’ve concluded that the STREL-based departure planes are flying as proscribed by the FAA. At the same time, we don’t suggest that people are not seeing or hearing airplanes. When we’ve looked into it further, many if not all of these other flights may be the non-STREL-based departures (remember - the other 50 percent do not fly the STREL), including patterns that have been flown for more than 20 years.

Departure Changes Were Not Implemented by the City
We are not necessarily fans of RNAV – indeed, it meant that fewer people (that’s good) would have greater negative impact (but that’s bad) from departures. The STREL itself was put in place by the FAA. It was not implemented at the request of the City, of the surrounding communities, or even JWA staff. Airspace control and management is the responsibility of the FAA. Air Traffic Control is responsible for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of airplanes. Changes in departure or arrival flight paths can only be approved, revised, and implemented by the FAA.

“Mirroring Traditional Flight Tracks down the Upper Bay”
The FAA says that STREL was implemented to mirror traditional departure patterns from JWA, which generally center airplane departures over Newport Bay and Noise Monitor 7. This does NOT mean that airplanes will fly exactly down the center of the bay – they never did.

Historically, flight tracks have been dispersed across Newport Bay. As discussed above, implementation of an RNAV procedure can reduce this dispersion or "fanning" of tracks, but will not result in a single track down the exact center of Newport Bay. It will only narrow it. Thus far, the tracks that JWA and the City have monitored, along with on-the-ground observations, indicate that the carriers that are using STREL - for the most part - are correctly following the STREL passing over Noise Monitor 7.

No Turns before the Coast
Per the FAA, the earliest that airplanes departing JWA are allowed to turn is once they pass over the shoreline. The FAA further notes that these turns are controlled by Air Traffic Control and are not executed at the request of the air carrier(s). Any early turns (farther south back toward the coast) that may occur appear to be purely a result of air traffic in the area and the need for Air Traffic Control to “separate” airplanes. “Separation” keeps an airplane at a minimum distance from another airplane to reduce the risk of those airplanes colliding, as well as prevent accidents due to wake turbulence.

JWA's flight tracking system does not show any commercial airplanes turning east before the coast. Flight tracks can be checked by using JWA's "Airport Monitor" feature found at:

As of August 2011, we have not found that commercial carriers are ignoring the STREL departure procedure. All data confirms they appear to be flying down the bay, past the Peninsula, and over the Pacific Ocean before initiating a turn off the coast. We realize that it may not always appear this way as some vantage points can lead a visual observer to assume that a plane is definitely inland, or turning too early. But vantage points can be deceiving. A plane’s distance from the observer and its altitude make determining its exact path from an angled viewpoint challenging, even for the best engineering mind. 

Not all Airplanes are using the STREL
Only airplane flying to destinations east of Las Vegas that are equipped with the required avionics are able to use the STREL procedure. This currently equates to approximately 50 percent of all commercial departures (about 50 per day) as using the STREL. All other commercial airplanes (those going north, those going to Las Vegas alone, and those not equipped with the proper avionics) are flying the traditional Standard Instrument Departures (“CHANL ONE” and “MUSEL SIX”). Thus, for nearly 50 percent of JWA departures, there has been no change in departure procedure.

What happened to the old power-cutback departure from the airport?
Some have suggested that as a result of STREL, commercial carriers departing the airport are no longer utilizing any power cut back in an attempt to meet the requisite decibel readings at each of the seven noise monitors that monitor departures. Generally speaking, as long as the commercial carrier meets the requisite noise monitoring readings upon departure, they can depart from JWA using any departure method. STREL has not changed this requirement. 

In 1993, resulting from the need to standardize Noise Abatement Departure Profiles (NADP), FAA issued Advisory Circular (AC) 91-53A). It describes acceptable criteria for two safe departure profiles known as the “Close-in” and “Distant” NADPs relating to a community’s proximity to the departure end of an airport runway. It provides general guidance for departure procedures at all commercial airports, not just JWA. Although, the “Close-in” profile was developed for and tested at JWA. Ultimately, airlines develop their own procedures according to their operational specifications for each airplane type. This is especially true at JWA since airlines have to adhere to the single event noise restrictions at the various monitors in the area. This has not changed. Currently, a majority of the commercial carriers at JWA utilize some form of throttle back procedure; the depth and timing vary from carrier to carrier. Newer, quieter planes, for example, can mean no cutback but still allow the carrier to meet the noise limits.

But I was told I would never hear or see planes from JWA
Whoever told you that doesn’t understand the FAA’s jurisdiction and rights. The only protections we have right now are within the Settlement Agreement – which again keeps the noise to (generally) acceptable hours and limits the loudest commercial departures and million annual passengers (the “MAPCAP”). We never had control over where the planes arrived, departed, or crossed over. Only the FAA did and does.

All of that noted, the City will still work with the County and FAA to continue monitoring what’s going on. We will examine the data on an ongoing basis to ensure that flight tracks still follow “traditional patterns down the center of the bay” as a rule. Our monitoring of the STREL to date shows that this is so. At the same time, we need to keep focused on the most important goal at hand – keeping the community-friendly protections we have with JWA going well past 2015. We are hopeful that all Newport Beach residents can unite in that vital effort.

For more information, please contact City Manager Dave Kiff at 949-644-3001 or  Please also consider attending the City’s Aviation Committee, where these issues are discussed frequently. To be added to the email notification list for the Committee, please notify Dave Kiff. 


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