Following a city council study session last week analyzing the current noise ordinance in effect at Long Beach Airport (LGB), JetBlue Airways has formally requested the airport and the City of Long Beach begin the process to establish customs facilities for international flights.
The city's Airport Noise Compatability Ordinance (ANCO), which has remained unchanged since it was adopted in 1995, allows for a minimum of 41 commercial and 25 commuter slots daily from 7:00AM to 10:00PM. A large reason ANCO has remained intact is because the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) of 1990 was passed while ANCO was being processed by an appellate court in California, and Long Beach was granted an exemption to keep its own ordinance, which pre-dated the federal legislation, with the understanding that any amendments made to it could result in forfeiture of local airport noise governance.
“Since that federal law was enacted in 1990, no other airport in the country has been successful in being able to impose these types of restrictions that we currently have at our airport with flight caps and curfews,” said Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais during a study session on the noise ordinance last week. “There are probably only about five or six airports that share what we have as far as being exempt from ANCA.”
In a letter sent to Bryant Francis, director of Long Beach Airport, from JetBlue, on Monday, the airline said it would comply with the city's noise ordinance by having international flights in their designated flight time slots for domestic flights.
"Following the city council study session held recently on the airport noise ordinance, and with no nexus whatsoever between enhancing the airport with a modest customs facility and in any way disturbing the sanctity or legality of the ordinance, JetBlue requests the city seek the presence of US Customs for purposes of processing aircraft under the Customs User Fee Airport program," the letter, signed by Robert C. Land, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs and Associate General Counsel for JetBlue, reads. "Given the need for a facility capable of processing no more than three aircraft in any one hour period, it is JetBlue's belief that LGB qualifies under the guidelines for a User Fee Airport. JetBlue will utilize only its current allotment of assigned air carrier slots and existing aircraft parking positions to fly internationally in addition to our current 11 domestic markets."
JetBlue made the argument in its letter that international flights would allow for increased tourism, commerce and conventions in Long Beach.
"Further, the general aviation community will be able to avail itself of international travel opportunities while also operating within the existing noise ordinance limitations and restrictions," the letter reads. "Like international commercial flights, international general aviation flights will bring new economic and corporate opportunities to the city of Long Beach."
In response, Francis said in a letter to City Council, made available to the Long Beach Post, that several steps would need to be taken before the city begins work on a U.S. Customs Facility (FIS) at LGB.
Francis cited determinations based on construction cost, identifying funding sources, facility site and layout, a fee structure for users and other factors.
Further, the city should consult with firms specializing in FIS facility development, he said.
"This is an extensive process and will include city council guidance at critical junctures, ensuring community awareness and input throughout the process," Francis said in the letter. "It is estimated that, should the city council ultimately direct the airport to proceed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection application process, it would be a minimum of three years before an FIS facility could become operational."
Francis said the city will be required to submit an application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, for consideration as either a new "Port of Entry" or "User Fee" airport. This could take months of federal review before approval or denial is determined, he said.
"Further, there is no guarantee that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would approve the airport's application for designation as either a Port of Entry or a User Fee Airport, as it is responsible for providing the officers to process passengers and freight onboard aircraft arriving from international points of origin."
JetBlue concluded its letter by citing its support of the noise ordinance since its inaugural flight nearly 14 years ago.
"We look forward to working closely with the city to immediately proceed with the application process and begin the work required to secure an international flight designation for the City of Long Beach," it said.