A March (AFB) Away from an El Toro Airport

A March (AFB) Away from an El Toro Airport


When the debate over the reuse of the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro began heating up six years ago, I proposed the combination of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Center and Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center as a more attractive airport alternative. I was wrong. Neither the El Toro nor Seal Beach-Los Alamitos airport ideas offer the bold vision of the future needed for Orange County going into the next millennium.

The notion of solving Orange County’s international air transport needs with a local airport is hopelessly flawed. This idea only addresses a small subset of our overall transportation problem. Maintaining and improving Orange County’s standard of living will take far more than an international airport shoe-horned between Irvine and Lake Forest. We need a bold, think-outside-the-lines vision. The Millennium Plan coupled with privately financed rapid rail is such a bold vision.

Airport proponents claim that El Toro is a $10 billion gift. They are correct. How we choose to use this gift will affect our future, the future of our children and their descendants for many generations to come. Will we permit the building of a county-operated international airport at El Toro and support the largest expansion of county government’s power and scope in history?

Or will we turn El Toro into a planned private enterprise development that supports a huge number of sustainable, high-paying, forward-looking commercial enterprises that increase our county tax base?

If we choose the latter free-market oriented approach, we can solve other Orange County challenges, too. We can create high-paying jobs for our children, improve Orange County competitiveness and provide rapid access to an international airport. Implementing the Millennium Plan for El Toro will do all of the above, while providing more, better and higher-paying jobs than an airport ever could.

In their zeal, proponents for an international airport at El Toro have overlooked a critical success factor. A quick look at typical international airports (deGaulle, Norita, Heathrow, Athens, Rome, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Denver, Dulles, Orlando, etc.) reveals one common characteristic: They are located away from the urban centers they support. These airports are located on cheap land and connected to urban centers by either rapid transit or special access roads.

March Air Force Base in Riverside County fits this profile for a successful international airport. It is actually closer to Orange County than most international airports are to the communities they serve. And, it is located on a sprawling base with the longest runways west of the Mississippi (essential for meaningful international operations), in an area with much lower land values, and with realistic departure and arrival routes. March is ready to start operations today as a full-service cargo airport, with excellent transportation to all of Southern California. Passenger flights could also be easily accommodated. But the debate over El Toro is causing delays. Further, an international airport at March AFB would be accepted by the local community, not vigorously and tenaciously opposed as is the case of El Toro with South Orange County. In fact, March’s Environmental Impact Report states that a cargo facility at March would actually decrease traffic on the Riverside (91) Freeway and create better air quality because fewer people would have to commute to Orange County for jobs.

Locating an international airport at March AFB allows us to address other Orange County problems as well. For example, how can we sustain growth without once again doubling the width of every major freeway in the county? Clearly we need transportation alternatives. High-speed transit systems offer the most attractive solution.

Linking John Wayne Airport with March AFB with stops at crucial locations like Disneyland, Knott’s, the Millennium-Spectrum complex, Corona, Riverside and other bedroom communities would encourage tourism and provide the needed rapid passage to a major international airport. It would also save young families from spending hours behind the wheel each day commuting to their Orange County jobs. Such a transportation solution would be so lucrative it could be built without government financial backing or subsidy.

As I wrote back in 1993, “Orange County is just too built-out to accommodate another airport. The LA Basin needs to look to the Inland Empire for its growing airport needs.” Today, this statement is even more true. Now is the time for bold, innovative thinking.

Myers is the chairman and CEO of Newport Beach-based SM&A Corporation, a public company that provides proposal management, system and information technology solutions to aerospace, defense and high-tech companies. He lives in Irvine.

Copyright Orange County Business Journal Sep 14, 1998

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