More than 300 residents who live near Long Beach Airport are pushing city leaders to take action over an increase in aircraft noise—what they describe as a huge quality of life issue.

John Mosquera and Lisa Dunn are two of the leaders of the Small Aircraft NoisE Reduction group, which goes by SANER, and are fighting back against the onslaught of small aircraft noise that’s been compared to a “little lawnmower” repeatedly passing over peoples’ homes.

They say the frequency of small planes flying over the homes in neighborhoods near the airport has steadily increased and the constant noise is forcing some to consider moving.

Dunn said the group, which has encouraged its members to report flight noise to the airport and to contact its City Council representatives, has tracked hundreds of operations per day that circle homes in Bixby Knolls, California Heights and other neighborhoods northwest of the airport.

They hope that the city will act, possibly by putting a halt on new flight schools or lease renewals at the airport, and potentially not renewing those who have patterns of violating the airport’s noise rules. The City Council is expected to discuss the issue at its Sept. 12 meeting.

“Long Beach is going to have to do something at some point because we’re seeing the community is in an uproar right now,” Dunn said.

A whole lotta’ noise? 

There has been an increase in general aviation flights in Long Beach.

Lindsey Phillips, a spokesperson for the airport, said that the year-over-year data shows a 38% increase in general aviation activity at Long Beach through June, the last month that data is available.

This could be attributed to a number of factors, including other local airports tightening rules for flight schools, pilots utilizing the extended daylight of the summer and the projected nationwide pilot shortage, which is driving more people to seek out pilot licenses.

“We, along with other airports in the region, are experiencing a greater use of airspace and need for training to fulfill this demand,” Phillips said in an email. “Area flight schools have seen a significant increase in applicants as prospective students consider flying as an emerging career of choice.”

Activity reports published by the airport show that violations of the airport’s noise ordinance, which regulates when planes can land and take off from LGB and how much noise they can make, are up from last year.

The May noise report from the airport showed 48 violations from non-commercial flights at the airport through May, an increase of 50% from 2022.

The violations, though, only account for a small fraction of the non-commercial activity at the airport. The May report showed that there were over 296,982 operations—landings and takeoffs—at LGB, but only 48 triggered a violation.

The City Council is expected to ask for an update Tuesday on how the airport manages general aviation flights, including how flight patterns are decided and how the airport regulates flight schools to ensure they’re complying with airport rules.

Councilmember Megan Kerr, who represents neighborhoods near the airport, put the item on Tuesday’s agenda to find out more about the issue before it could potentially ask for changes in the future.

“We just need to know where we stand,” Kerr said.

A small aircraft comes in for a landing at the Long Beach Airport, Wednesday Sept. 6, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.
The pilot shortage

Jason Jeffery says he’s fortunate because, unlike other operators, Pacific Air Flight School thrived throughout the pandemic.

He has noticed a recent bump in business, but he said that the pandemic saw more people who had more free time, and in some cases, more expendable income that they decided to invest in becoming a pilot.

But Jeffery said some flight schools have more than doubled their fleets to accommodate new customers.

There is a significant nationwide shortage of pilots, as many opted for early retirement—or other careers—during the pandemic as air travel shut down.

Some analyses put the need for new commercial pilots at about 180,000 over the next decade, which some believe has contributed to the increase in general aviation.

Jeffery said the industry has relaxed some standards in order to speed up issuing licenses. Airlines no longer require a pilot to have a bachelor’s degree and have shaved off the amount of hours needed to be logged in multi-engine planes, which can cost about $300 per hour, Jeffery said.

“Basically I would be comfortable saying that anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 is now not needed to be an airline pilot,” Jeffery said.

But he added that the increase in traffic at Long Beach might not be purely because of a pilot shortage and pointed to a nationwide shortage in air traffic controllers. This has led to some airports diverting smaller planes trying to practice takeoffs and landings to others like Long Beach.

“They used to stay at their airport, now we have airplanes from Torrance and John Wayne that are here all day,” he said.

A single-engine plane flies in for a landing at Long Beach Airport Friday, June 22, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
What can the city do? 

Long Beach’s noise ordinance is one of few in the country that imposes local noise limits on aircraft activity.

The ordinance applies to both general aviation and commercial airliners, which are limited to landing or taking off between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, general aviation isn’t required to schedule its takeoffs or landings and can operate all night as long as it doesn’t trigger a noise violation, which are measured by sensors positioned along the airport’s runways.

Under the ordinance, the airport must allow a minimum of 41 commercial flights, but there is no limit on general aviation activity. Violations are based on “noise buckets” that establish the maximum amount of noise that can be made by an aircraft for a given hour with the buckets being smaller late at night and in the early morning.

There are now 58 daily commercial flights allowed at LGB with airport officials attributing that in part to large planes getting quieter over time. Don Thompson, a general aviation pilot who has flown out of the airport for 48 years, said it would be misguided to put any new restrictions on small aircraft.

“The FAA would get involved, every alphabet soup organization in the world of aviation would be involved, and there would be a battle in court that would last so long that nothing would change,” Thompson said.

Thompson pointed to the history of people complaining about the noise of the airport and noted that LGB is nearing its 100th anniversary.

“How many of those people making their complaints have been living in their homes for 100 years?” Thompson said. “I’d like to know.”

It’s unclear if the council will move to impose new restrictions at the airport. Dunn said if Long Beach moves to loosen the ordinance, residents are prepared to fight.

The City Council is asking for a report in 45 days, so Mosquera and Dunn’s group could have to wait for some relief.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.