The Long Beach airport is a spectacular facility. It mixes the architectural and artistic history of the original construction with a modern gate area featuring outdoor seating, fire pits, great restaurants and more. It could be a tremendous asset to the city and the region, offering a relief valve for the LAX chaos found a few miles north. Alas, NIMBYism seems hell bent on preventing that from happening. The Long Beach Airport Advisory Commission is meeting today with plans to address amendments to the noise ordinances that govern operations at the airport.
The amendments being proposed include a significant increase in the fine structure for operations outside of the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., with a provision that the most egregious offenders may be subject to the forfeiture of flight slots. The proposed amendments also include a requirement for air carriers to increase utilization of their flight slots. If the proposed amendments are adopted, the companion Flight Allocation Procedures Resolution will also be amended.
Reading between the lines, these proposed amendments appear to target JetBlue, the largest airline at the airport. With the most flights and some relatively late arrivals scheduled the carrier is exposed to the potential for fines. It turns out that the fines are stuck at 1995 levels, however, and even then it is unclear that they were particularly significant in terms of influencing behavior.
An off-hours arrival (between 10p and 7a) subjects the operator to a maximum penalty of $300. The proposal will dramatically increase the potential fines to a starting penalty of $2,500 and a top rate of $10,000. If a carrier operates more than 20 flights off-hours under the proposed scheme the airport could revoke landing slots as an additional penalty.
The proposed changes to slot utilization requirements are also significant. Currently airlines must operate in a slot an average of ~57% of the days to keep it. The proposal would require utilization 60% of the days in a month, 75% of a quarter and 80% of the year. That still allows for seasonal variation but would increase the total flight operations at the airport. Failure to meet the utilization targets would result in either a fine or forfeiture of the slot in question.
Read More: JetBlue takes an atypical look at Long Beach
All about the noise
Long Beach’s neighbors are incredibly vocal when it comes to noise issues at the airport. In that context the stricter rules around the off-hours flying make sense. But the new rules are also demanding more flight operations at the airport by increasing the required number of flights to hold a slot. Sure, these are daytime flights, but the new rules will increase noise at the airport, albeit within the previously defined total noise envelope calculations.
Most surprisingly, the local government recently chose to honor NIMBY requests and declined JetBlue’s push to add immigration facilities at the airport. During those discussions much of the FUD around the facility came from the idea that the international flights would be louder than domestic ones. That decision killed off some of the airline’s planned new routes, flights that would have used the orphaned slots and brought the flights the authorities seem to want. Instead JetBlue is considering unorthodox routes and may ultimately choose to shift more service away from Long Beach. Sure, others will fill some of the gaps, but with spectacularly low yields at the field it is unclear just how much growth any airline will be willing to push.
Can the city get more flights at its airport while also reducing the noise? That seems a tough nut to crack. Today’s hearing on the topic should prove interesting as they try to figure out if such is possible.
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