A JetBlue plane sits on the runway at Long Beach Airport.
The City of Long Beach could soon be pursuing a master plan at Long Beach Airport (LGB), after the city council voted Tuesday night to instruct the city manager to explore what a plan would look like for LGB.
Master plans are not required by the Federal Aviation Commission but are “strongly recommended” as a way to outline short and long-term operations at airports, whether they be large commercial airports like Los Angeles International Airport, or smaller operations like LGB. Of the 15 largest airports in the state Long Beach is the only one lacking a master plan.
FAA guidelines note that master plans are “prepared to support the modernization of expansion” of existing facilities or for the creation of a new airport, the latter of which would not apply to Long Beach. It’s designed to serve as a strategy for development, according to the guidelines.
The item brought forward by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin asks the city manager to investigate the process, potential scope and the pros and cons of developing such a plan for Long Beach. The goal of a master plan is to provide guidelines for future airport development in a “financially feasible manner” while simultaneously accounting for other issues like environmental and community concerns.
“There is not a clear articulated vision of the direction of where the city wants to see the airport going in the long term, and that has eroded confidence in residents and neighborhoods throughout the city,” Austin said.
Austin’s item was part of a supplemental agenda updated late last week and comes at a time when the council is set to have a formal hearing on the results of a feasibility study it commissioned to determine the feasibility of installing an international terminal at LGB.
The terminal was formally requested by the airport’s main tenant, JetBlue Airways, in February 2015, resulting in nearly two years of public objection to even the idea of the study, on the grounds that it could invite litigation from competing airlines to enter the Long Beach market resulting in increased air traffic.
Jacobs Engineering, the firm that carried out the study, found that Long Beach could operate an international terminal without impacting its noise ordinance when it released the results of the feasibility study last month. If approved by the council, JetBlue has said it intends to use some of its existing flight slots at LGB to fly to destinations in Canada, Mexico and other Central American cities.
The city attorney’s office which has defended the ordinance and presided over countless community meetings regarding the airport has maintained that the city faces legal challenges to its ordinance with or without an international terminal.
Jess Romo, the recently appointed director of Long Beach Airport, said that not only can master plans be arduous and costly—Van Nuys Airport took 14 years to complete its master plan, Ontario Airport spent $2 million and didn’t complete its plan—but with one of the primary functions of a plan being the identification of an airport’s future capacity, it too could invite litigation.
“In that regard, if you’re going to explore the ten elements that make up a master plan, including airport capacity, in my opinion that does elevate the level of risk,” Romo said.
Other elements of a master plan include pre-planning, public involvement, environmental considerations, aviation forecasts, facilities implementation plans and a financial feasibility analysis. The FAA stipulates that each plan can be tailored to individual airport needs and certain parameters can be explored to the extent that the city wants them to be. The exploration of these elements could potentially delay further discussions on the potential international terminal.
Austin has been one of the most outspoken advocates of the airport’s noise ordinance, with its unique grandfathered clause that has put a cap on the number of flights in and out of Long Beach, and serves one of the districts directly impacted by aircraft noise. He said that completing a master plan could help calm the nerves of those living around the airport, as it could provide reasonable expectations of what might be in store for the future of LGB.
“I hear people say that ‘there are people who bought their homes next to the airport or underneath the flight path, so what do you expect?’” Austin said. “Well, nobody knows what to expect because we don’t have a long-range plan; we don’t have a long-range vision.”
The city manager is expected to report back to the council within 45 days on the options available to the city regarding a master plan for its airport.