A couple years ago when the new Long Beach Airport terminal was unveiled both the city and the dominant airline – JetBlue – were adamant that international service was not part of the plans. Maybe Hawaii service once the A320neo-family of aircraft are delivered, but not international routes. And so no Customs & Immigration facilities were designed nor planned for, much less built. It seems that things have changed, at least from JetBlue’s perspective. The company has formally requested that the airport begin the process of applying to the federal government to construct and staff an immigration facility at LGB.
The company has no plans to challenge the current noise regulations which limit the facility to only 66 daily flights so any international expansion would come at the expense of frequencies to the other 11 destinations currently served from the hub. JetBlue hopes that the expansion would be funded through a Passenger Facility Charge which is added to the taxes & fees paid by each passenger departing from the airport. PFCs are commonly used to fund such projects though such use can be contentious. Delta is similarly pushing for such to facilitate its international expansion in Seattle while Alaska Airlines is opposed to such a plan since, essentially, Alaska’s passengers would be paying for Delta’s facilities. That may be less of an issue in Long Beach given that JetBlue is also the dominant operator at the airport.
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There is also the issue of costs to operate the facility once it is built. Those cannot be covered by PFCs and typically the USICS will not staff a station if the arriving passenger numbers are too low. Airlines or airports can pay to have the station staffed but that means higher costs for passengers and lower yields on the flights, two things which typically make such operations less desirable. And when I last spoke with JetBlue officials about such a possibility they did not believe they’d have the necessary volume to justify the operations. Apparently that has changed.
Even if the move is approved it will take a while to be implemented. JetBlue’s expansion of its Terminal 5 in JFK was an easier project in many ways (the airport already had USICS facilities in all the other terminals) and it still took 18+ months. Some estimates have this project at 3+ years, assuming it can get approved.
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