Long Beach Airport will be taking steps to curb late night flight activity at LGB by asking the city council to consider tweaks to the city’s noise ordinance that could raise the fine structure at the airport and change the flight slot requirements currently in place.
The announcement by the airport comes a day after the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office said it was upping the fines it issues to JetBlue, the airport’s largest tenant, every time it lands or takes off during the “sensitive” hours of 11:00PM and 7:00AM. Previously, the airline was charged $3,000 for the first six violations during a quarter and $6,000 per violation after that, but the updated consent decree—an agreement between JetBlue and the city prosecutor’s office to avoid going to court after every violation—will now charge the airline $6,000 for every violation.
The airport has its own fine structure that charges much less, with the first three violations of the city’s noise ordinance and curfew amounting to $100 fines and all fines after that resulting in a $300 fine. The airport wants to move to a fine schedule more in line with other curfew-airports in the region like John Wayne in Orange County which starts its fines at $2,500 with habitual offenders eventually reaching fines that could reach $10,000 per violation as well as risk forfeiture of flight slots.
Like Long Beach, John Wayne operates a noise ordinance with grandfathered status from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Prior to upping its fine schedule, it received assurances from the FAA that augmenting its noise ordinance in a way that didn’t limit aircraft accessibility would not jeopardize its noise ordinance’s grandfather status.
In Thursday’s announcement, the airport stated that based on initial analysis from airport staff, the city attorney’s office and outside legal counsel and discussions with the FAA, it may be able to strike the same kind of deal.
“We are encouraged that with recent administrative regulation changes made at other noise controlled airports, there is precedent for the City to make some adaptations to our Airport noise regulations,” Long Beach Airport Director Jess L. Romo said in a statement. “Long Beach Airport has a long history of working with the community and balancing the interests of our various stakeholders. We are fortunate to have one of the few noise control ordinances in the nation. Originally enacted in 1995, these updates are needed to encourage compliance.”
Outside of the fine structure, the airport will also seek to compel its tenants to more fully utilize their flight slots. Currently a flight slot only has to be used 57 percent of the time, or roughly four flights per week over any 180-day period.
It will pursue utilization marks of 60 percent per month, 70 percent per quarter and 80 percent per year, according to a memo sent from Romo to City Manager Pat West.
According to the memo, it will ask that its allocation resolution be amended to state that non-compliance with the goals sought can result in penalties including reduction in existing flight slots and possible disqualification from receiving additional slots if the airport’s annual noise analysis finds the airport has room to offer additional temporary slots.
The airport’s release comes after months of increased late-night flight activity that’s seen JetBlue surpass the number of flights subject to consent decree fines–158 such violations have occurred through July while 2016 only saw 127 violations.
Flight activity by the airline has also waned in recent years with JetBlue attributing it to demand in markets outside of Long Beach but has left some council members speculating if the airline was “slot squatting” while it waited for a decision on its requested international terminal. The decline in flight activity led to millions of dollars of revenue being lost by the airport.
The council voted down JetBlue’s request to construct the terminal in January.
It’s expected that the airport will begin a dialogue with both carriers flying out of the airport and the public regarding the potential changes to the city’s noise ordinance before presenting a report to the city council. It will then be up to the council to either green-light or table and suggested changes to the ordinance.
“We are committed to reduce the number of nightly curfew violations at the Long Beach Airport,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a statement. "It's important that we protect the quality of life of the thousands of residents who are being affected by the constant violations."