Over JetBlue’s objections, City Council passes rules requiring airlines to use flight slots more

Airlines operating out of Long Beach Airport will have to fly more frequently to maintain their flight-slot allocation after the City Council adopted a resolution increasing the usage requirements of slots currently held at the airport.

Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved the amendment that will require airlines to use at least 85 percent of their daily flight slots for a given year versus the current usage floor, which airport officials said sits at about 57 percent. The new rules work out to about 310 flights per year per slot versus about 208 under the old rules.

The new requirements will also set the monthly utilization minimum at 60 percent and the quarterly usage minimum at 70 percent.

The airport said the move is an attempt to ensure that its flight slots are being used adequately by carriers and to reduce any anti-competitive practices being used by airlines, such as flying the bare-minimum number of flights to keep slots from being allocated to other operators at the airport.

“It also reinforces the proposition that our flight slots are not property rights or property interests of the carriers, but they, in fact, belong to the city to be allocated based on a reasonable use by the air carriers,” said Long Beach Airport Director Jess Romo.

The airport has 41 permanent and nine supplemental flight slots, 34 of which are held by the airport’s largest tenant, JetBlue Airlines. Under the previous slot-allocation rules JetBlue could fly about 20 flights a day and still maintain its hold on all 34 flight slots.

Under the adopted resolution the airport now has newly codified measures in which it can strip airlines of flight slots if they’re not being utilized to the new standards, and could potentially keep those same airlines out of drawings for any future supplemental flight slots that the airport might offer.

JetBlue says proposed policy on using flight slots is ‘discriminatory’

In past years, the airport has assigned temporary supplemental slots that it deemed could operate and still fall under the cumulative noise thresholds written into the city’s noise ordinance through its annual noise budget analysis. That process has seen airlines with smaller footprints grow their presence in Long Beach.

JetBlue officials have been outspoken about the proposed changes stating that they were discriminatory and were counter to the city’s stance that it has a “pro-business growth mentality.”

Under the changes adopted by the council, other carriers like Southwest Airlines (6 slots), Delta Airlines (4 slots), American Airlines (3 slots) and Hawaiian Airlines (one slot) now stand to have underutilized slots from other carriers potentially redistributed by the airport.

This is the first time that the airport’s flight slot allocation resolution has been amended since 2004 but the sixth time it has been altered overall.

“This resolution has been amended six times in the last several decades and it makes a lot of sense for us to look at how this flight allocation process benefits the airport and puts the airport in the driver’s seat,” said 8th District Councilman Al Austin.

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