With late-night flight violations piling up at Long Beach Airport (LGB) the city will look at taking the unprecedented step of augmenting its noise ordinance, something that has remained untouched since being enacted in 1995.
The original noise ordinance, the document that governs the number of flights, the times that aircraft can take off and land, and the the fines imposed for those that don’t adhere to it, was first adopted in 1981. However, after over a decade of legal challenges the original document saw its power shrink as the number of allowable flights grew due to legal challenges from airline companies.
Long Beach has one of the most stringent local controls for a municipal airport as it was grandfathered in under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, but the city has since stood by the idea that the ordinance could not be changed for fear that it would invite further legal challenges and the possibility of it losing the ability to control its municipal airport, forfeiting that right to the much more lax rules of the federal government. However, Mayor Robert Garcia said these changes would not imperil the city’s ability to govern its airport.
“I encourage members of the public that are interested in the airport and its noise ordinance to attend this meeting,” Garcia said in a statement. “It’s important that everyone has an opportunity to provide their input, and this meeting will also provide the community with the reassurance that these amendments will not endanger our noise ordinance.”
From January 2017 through September 2017, the last month that LGB posted statistics for noise, there were a total of 222 noise violations. For the entire year of 2016 there were 134 violations, 126 of which were attributed to JetBlue Airways, the largest tenant at the airport. Through September that amounted to about $1.1 million in fines collected by the airport.
In August City Prosecutor Doug Haubert doubled the amount of money charged to JetBlue under the city’s consent decree—an agreement between the airline and Haubert’s office that results in fines being paid instead of prosecution for continued late night flight violations—from $3,000 per violation to $6,000 per violation. A violation is considered flights that take off or land between 11:00PM and 7:00AM.
Previously, JetBlue paid $3,000 for the first six violations of any quarter and $6,000 for every violation thereafter. The deal was negotiated and signed in 2003.
However, under the proposed changes, the fines could be much steeper.
Currently the airport’s fine structure starts at $100 for the first through third violation and increases to $300 after that. Proposed changes would see the first violation start at $2,500 for the first through fifth violation for any two-year period. It would then jump to $3,000 to $5,000 for the sixth through tenth violations during any two-year period, and then go to $5,000 to $10,000 after the tenth violation with the possibility of the offending airline forfeiting its flight slots for 20 or more violations.
A representative from JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The city will also pursue a new definition of “slot utilization” for airlines who have the rights to flight slots at LGB. Currently, an airline satisfies this rule by maintaining a 57 percent utilization rate of a given slot. Under proposed changes an airline would have to maintain utilization rates of 60 percent per month, 70 percent per quarter and 85 percent per year.
In the past, city officials had stated that JetBlue had been “slot squatting” by flying the minimum number of flights to maintain its hold on flight slots. However, Southwest Airlines has continued to grow its footprint at the airport by gaining permanent and temporary flight slots through the airport’s noise budget analysis and the corresponding lottery and through others’ decreased service levels, over its almost two years of operating out of LGB.
Thursday’s meeting will be the first in a series of meetings and consultations with both the public and the Federal Aviation Administration but a memo from the city manager projects that this matter could end up before the city council within the first quarter of 2018.
The changes will be considered by the commission at its meeting Thursday, January 18 at The Grand at 4:00PM. The Grand is located at 4101 East Willow Street Long Beach, CA 90815.