Monday, January 23, 2017
Officials to decide on international travel at Long Beach Airport
By Courtney Tompkins
The Long Beach (CA) Press Telegram
City officials on Tuesday will consider moving forward with a federal inspections facility at Long Beach Airport, which would allow JetBlue and other airline carriers to fly international.
The controversial project has been under consideration for the past two years, following a request by the airport’s largest carrier, JetBlue Airways, to study its feasibility.
The study, which forecasted regional economic impacts among other things, found that Long Beach is in a prime position to capture a share of the competitive Southern California aviation market, where demand for international flights grew by 30 percent from 2010 to 2015.
The need is enough to convert up to eight flight slots from domestic to international over the next five years, the study found.
But some residents are critical of the report, and say it didn’t consider Long Beach-specific impacts.
Some who live under the flight paths are worried international travel could lead to more traffic, air pollution and a drop in property values. But the primary concern — and one many residents agree on — is whether a federal customs facility could open the door for outside airlines that decide they too want flight slots, which could lead to legal challenges to the city’s coveted noise ordinance.
The local law sets sound threshold, imposes a curfew for takeoffs and landings between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and limits the number of commercial takeoffs to about 50 per day.
Officials, however, say that allowing international travel would not impact the Long Beach law because it does not govern flight destinations. Instead, it measures cumulative noise levels and allocates flight slots accordingly.
The city attorney’s office also concluded that considering the federal inspection facility would not jeopardize the grandfathered status of the local noise ordinance.
“Anyone can sue the airport or the city at virtually any time for any reason. That threat exists today, it existed yesterday and it will exist tomorrow,” Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said in a recent interview, explaining that he believes Long Beach is in a good position to defend the law in court.
The city also received a letter in October from the Federal Aviation Administration that said the agency did not believe adding an international customs facility would threaten the local ordinance.
Still, federal aviation officials reserved the right to investigate future complaints if a potential carrier believes the ordinance is a “barrier to entry.”
“In such a case, the city could defend the reasonableness of its ordinance, make modifications to the ordinance to facilitate market entry, or consider other courses of action,” the letter stated.
The vote on Tuesday would not authorize final approval of the project, but it would direct city management to begin negotiating a financial agreement with interested airport carriers. It would also allow officials to engage with the governor’s office to obtain support for the project and authorize the Long Beach Airport to submit paperwork to the U.S Department of Homeland Security for designation as a federal customs and border protection facility.
City officials say these are “crucial” next steps in the process.
The meeting begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at City Hall, located at 333 W. Ocean Blvd.