A JetBlue airplane sits on the runway at Long Beach Airport. (Below) A sign opposing an international terminal in Long Beach. Image courtesy of the Long Beach Neighborhoods First Facebook page.
The Long Beach City Council approved a feasibility study last night to determine if an international terminal at Long Beach Airport would be economically viable and what kind of risks it might pose to the city by opening it up to international travel. The study will coincide with a risk assessment of potential challenges the city’s noise ordinance might face from airlines by potentially opening the market in Long Beach to international flights.
The move comes about six months after the council’s decision to move forward with the bidding process to identify a suitor to carry out the terms outlined by it in July. The contract was awarded to Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc., a Texas-based group that has previously carried out consultations for both John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and Los Angeles International Airport. The contract will not exceed a proposed $349,845 price tag and will be paid for out of the airport’s enterprise fund, and the study is expected to be presented to the council in July.
In addition to vetting the impact such a terminal would have on the economy, environment and the noise ordinance, other amendments expected to evaluate the forecast of general aviation and corporate jets will be included, as proposed in July by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin. The contract also calls for Jacobs and its sub-contractors to host community meetings in the affected neighborhoods surrounding LGB prior to the findings of the study being brought back to council.
Sticking to his staunch opposition to even the idea of conducting the study—Austin represents a district that sits in LGB’s flight path—Austin reiterated his disapproval of the item before eventually voting against the motion.
“I think my position is pretty clear on this and it has been from the very beginning,” Austin said. “ I have some significant and serious reservations, I voted against the study to begin with and I don’t think I can be supportive of it again today.”
Questions about the financial troubles facing the airport were raised during the discussion, given the recent downward trend of passenger activity and the need for international flights in Long Beach, given its proximity to airports already offering that capability in Los Angeles and Santa Ana.
“Here we are within 50 miles of those cities, less with Orange County and LA, yet we want to create an international facility here,” said Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also voted against the motion. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
His assertion that the roughly $350,000 would be better used to fund infrastructure improvements and the city’s other needs, like more police officers, was shot down by the city staff, as the airport’s enterprise funds can only be used for airport matters.
Residents also expressed concern that this study was commencing just one month after an annual noise bucket analysis at the airport concluded that nine additional slots needed to be offered to stay in compliance with the city’s noise ordinance, a decision attributed in part to the decreasing decibel levels of newer jet engines. Some wondered why the city was covering the cost of the study, when it was JetBlue that proposed it and could potentially stand to be the only beneficiary.
Airport Director Bryant Francis noted that while the airport has witnessed a decline in enplanements, the airport’s budget still stands at a surplus, adding that out of the 66 permitted daily departures from commuter flights the airport currently operates about 40 per day. He said while it is true that the study was proposed by JetBlue, if the terminal becomes a reality no single airline would have a monopoly.
“We do believe that users of this facility, should it come to fruition at some point in the future, it would extend beyond a single carrier,” Francis said. “It is true that JetBlue submitted a formal request to my attention at the end of February, which is what began this process […] however, we do believe that there will be other beneficiaries at the airport.”
He said an international terminal in a city the size of Long Beach would not be unprecedented, pointing to Fresno, Tucson and Birmingham, Alabama as cities with comparable populations that have international flight capabilities.
The vote to commence with the study and its included public meetings will surely serve as a call to action for some neighborhood groups that have been the most outspoken critics of the FIS study and the council members who have supported it. Communities surrounding LGB have already seen bright orange signs denouncing any kind of international flights popping up in the front lawns of homes.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents the city’s eastern flank that borders the airport, has been supportive of the process, which has drawn the scorn of some residents alleging she’s placing corporate interests above those of the community. Mungo pointed out that last night’s vote was not an endorsement for the facility itself, but for the study, which will help the council make a more informed, data-driven decision when the reports are brought back before it this summer.
“I think studies are important and I’m not saying that I’m committing to voting yes or no on the FIS but I believe that a study is really important to know the viability,” Mungo said.
Jason Ruiz covers transportation for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or 951-310-1772.
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