Fewer late-night flights result in more supplemental slots at Long Beach Airport

Long Beach Airport will soon begin the process of offering supplemental flight slots to airlines operating there after its annual noise budget analysis found there was room for more flights.

A total of three flight slots will be offered to a waiting list of carriers that includes Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines. JetBlue Airlines declined to be included in the allocation process. The results of the analysis were included in a memo from the city’s airport director to the mayor and City Council.

A flight slot is an opportunity for an airline to fly in and out of the airport per day. Currently the city has 41 permanent flight slots and nine supplemental slots that have been awarded over the last few years but averaged just over 44 flights per day from October 2018 through the end of September 2019.

Southwest, Delta could absorb 10 open flight slots at Long Beach Airport

The city’s airport is under one of the strictest noise ordinances in the country. It places a cap on the number of permanent flight slots (41) but allows for noise budget analysis to determine if temporary supplemental slots can be awarded.

If the allowable noise levels recorded at the airport are below the threshold set by the ordinance and creates space for new flights to be offered the airport has 30 days to offer those slots to interested airlines. Supplemental flight slots can be added or subtracted annually depending on the findings of the noise budget analysis.

While offering the slots does not necessarily mean they will be claimed by an airline, the waiting list compiled by the city, which lists Hawaiian as first and Delta as third, was completed in October.

“With one of the most restrictive noise ordinances in the nation, Long Beach Airport has long balanced the demand for more flights with the environmental and noise concerns of surrounding communities,” said Long Beach Airport Director Cynthia Guidry.

“This addition of three supplemental flight slots is in keeping with that commitment and is required under the terms of the Noise Ordinance,” she said. “We look forward to working with the airlines to make these slots available according to the established waiting list process.”

In the past, airport officials have attributed the drop in recorded noise to quieter aircraft but that was not the case in this year’s analysis.

Despite the increase in flights in recent years airport officials stressed that while offering the supplemental flights is an obligation of its noise ordinance, so too is staying under noise levels established in 1990, the year the city’s ordinance was grandfathered in by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ryan McMullan, a noise and environmental affairs officer at the airport, said that while aircraft are quieter than they were in the past, the advances in that kind of technology have remained kind of static. The difference in this year’s analysis had more to do with the time of day flights were taking off and landing in Long Beach.

“The major change that we’ve seen in the air carriers creating more room in the respective noise budget was the reduction in late night operations,” McMullan said. “Late night operations have a dramatic impact on the noise budget and I think that created a lot more room.”

McMullan said that one flight flown after 10 p.m., the cutoff for what is considered “late night,” is equal to 10 daytime flights. Similarly, one flight flown between 7 and 10 p.m. is equal to three daytime flights in regard to the noise they generate.

With fewer flights being flown later at night this past year more room was created in the noise budget leading to the three additional supplemental slots being offered, he explained.

McMullan said he couldn’t predict how many more slots could be offered through future noise budget analysis processes because changes in industry technology can vary year to year.

With JetBlue pulling back, who could fly more out of Long Beach Airport?

“It’s very fluid,” he said. “With changing technology we don’t know what’s on the horizon that could change but for the foreseeable future these seem like these are the kind of aircraft that are operating here and will continue to operate here.”

One element that could have contributed to drop in late night flights was the decision by JetBlue to dramatically pull back operations in Long Beach earlier this year. JetBlue, one of the most frequent violators of the city’s noise ordinance, accumulating millions of dollars in fines for late-night flights, announced in April that it was relinquishing 10 flight slots, three of which were temporary.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.