If there is any good news for the Long Beach Airport and those residents and businesses who have to live with the noise levels of the airplanes that fly in and out of the region, it’s this– the airport is quieter now since the City enacted its 1995 noise ordinance.
The bad news– city officials and the airport director are citing the same ordinance as the reason behind a new mandate to add nine daily flights to the schedule.
According to Airport Director Bryant Francis, noise levels around the airport have been on the decline now that air carriers are adopting newer planes with better technology. It’s now easier for planes to stay within the accepted levels that were established under the ordinance from two decades ago.
Traffic is also down. Air carriers are not utilizing all of their existing flight slots, including JetBlue Airways, which has the majority number of slots at the Long Beach Airport.
While it was noted that JetBlue has requested to have a controversial federal customs facility to accommodate international flights, Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais said Tuesday that this particular request is a separate issue from this new proposal to add nine daily flights to the schedule.
Francis said that the request for additional flights is actually required by the noise ordinance.
“The best way,” Francis said Tuesday, “to ensure that we are able to keep the ordinance in place is to abide by it.”
Mais concurred. He said that the mandate to add additional flights to the schedule is an “explicit” requirement of the noise ordinance.
“Even though the utilization is actually lower than historic averages, that’s not what we look at to add supplemental slots,” he said, adding that all the carriers are flying “legally” within the terms of the ordinance and their own flight-allocation resolutions.
According to a staff report, the airport accommodates 41 daily flights, and the air carriers are actually utilizing their allocated flights at a 10-year average of 84 percent. A flight is defined as one departure and one arrival by an aircraft, Mais confirmed in an email.
The analysis concluded that the addition of the flights would include an assumption that air carriers would increase their utilization of their slots to 95 percent. According to the report, the noise would remain within the levels set by the original ordinance.
There will be an application process for carriers that wish to take advantage of the nine additional flight slots. Mais explained in a follow-up email to the Signal Tribune that the process will require carriers to post a $10,000 commencement bond. The carrier has to assure that it will continue to operate the flight slot for six months. He added that if a carrier does not continuously fly the slot for that six-month period, “the bond is forfeited to the City,” but the bond is returned to the carrier if it does operate that slot continuously.
The assistant city attorney said that aside from that bond, “there is no other direct cost related to the allocation of the slot.”
He cited a resolution that says that air carriers are required to use the slot and “average at least four flights per slot per week over any 180-day period…and at least 30 flights per slot in any 60-day period.”
Residents who live and work in the area challenged the idea that this is now a requirement to add more flights.
David Raiklen, a medical doctor who also works in the entertainment industry, criticized the way the ordinance works and how the old standard for noise levels no longer represents the current world.
“Yes, technology has improved, but the purpose of that technology of having less noise is not to have more noise,” Raiklen said. “Things are made quieter because that’s the goal.”
Birgit De La Torre, an 8th-district resident, also challenged the need to interpret the noise ordinance to mandate the need for additional flights. She cited concerns that the airport traffic brought additional stress, pollution and other serious health issues to the area.
“So it comes down to: must we accept all these…potential and current negative consequences, or do we have a choice?” De La Torre asked.
Tuesday’s announcement was within the context of a study session, and there was no action for the city council to take Tuesday night.
Mais indicated in a statement to the Signal Tribune that the nine flights will be available soon.
“The airport will set up an application period sometime after the first of the year,” the assistant city attorney said in an email. “It will be a 30-day application period, and only after all applications are received– if any– will slots actually be allocated.”
The staff report also describes the application process for carriers to claim the slots. Both incumbent carriers and outside carriers that don’t use the airport will be notified of the additional flight slots that will soon be available. The slots will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.