It’s been awhile since I last wrote about Long Beach, so I thought last week’s Airport Advisory Commission meeting would be a good opportunity for me to bring it up again. Now that the plans for the new terminal (scheduled to break ground next year) and parking garage (scheduled to break ground this year) seem to be underway, the commission turned its eye toward commuter slots.
Long Beach has a strict and convoluted noise ordinance (read the mind-numbing text yourself) that effectively restricts daily scheduled operations to no more than 41 flights on aircraft greater than 75,000 pounds at maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) and no more than 25 flights on aircraft less than 75,000 pounds.
Right now, Long Beach has its full complement of 41 big jet slots filled, 29 of those by JetBlue. Meanwhile, 18 of the 25 commuter slots remain empty. It’s no secret that JetBlue would be happy to fly more from Long Beach if it had the opportunity, but it doesn’t have any airplanes that weigh less than 75,000 pounds. So it’s hamstrung.
This has led the airport to actually go out and actively try to find airlines that are interested in filling those slots. Airport Director Mario Rodriguez said that his team was putting together an analysis on which airlines had the right aircraft and could potentially fill the void and he would report back at the next commission meeting. This isn’t a tough one to narrow down. There’s the outside chance you could get United to fly some regional jets to Denver, but other than that, Horizon is the best bet with their Q400s. Still, they’ve been deferring Q400 deliveries, so clearly they don’t see a big opportunity just yet. You could always try for Frontier subsidiary Lynx as well, but those Q400s aren’t going to make it all the way to Denver.
But all this discussion could be moot if that silly weight limit wasn’t in place. This is a noise ordinance, after all, so why should weights be involved? I got up to ask that question at the commission and nobody had a good answer. It was generally agreed that the weight limit was put in place by the judge during the whole drawn out fight over the ordinance’s adoption, but that it was arbitrary and really not relevant in today’s world.
Yes, at the time this started to be negotiated, regional jets didn’t even exist. Regional airlines were still called commuters and they only flew small props. Even the smallest jet in wide service at that time, the DC-9-10, weighed 90,000 pounds. So somebody probably decided that 75,000 pounds was a good cut off for some reason.
In 1990, the US adopted the Air Noise and Capacity Act which phased out the louder, older Stage II aircraft by the end of the decade. This, however, only applied to aircraft over this magical 75,000 pound limit. So maybe the judge took that 75,000 pound limit and brought it over to the Long Beach noise ordinance.
The problem with that? It’s a noise ordinance, so why would you base it on weight, especially when that Air Noise and Capacity Act actually allows for louder aircraft under 75,000 pounds? Nobody seems to really know why it was set up that way, because all the players who were around at that time are gone from the scene.
Now, of course, the commuter airlines have become regionals, and they fly larger and larger airplanes. The lines has definitely been blurred, especially with Republic’s latest moves, and there’s not really good reason to use weight to separate them out.
For example, the CRJ-700 (70 seater) tops out at 75,000 pounds so it can use the commuter slots. The slightly lengthened CRJ-900, however, cannot. And then there’s the issue of JetBlue’s Embraer 190s. Those planes have an MTOW of well over the limit, but they’re quieter than the CRJ-700s. So why can’t this ordinance by changed to be noise-based? [After getting more information, I have found that the CRJ-700s are actually quieter than the Embraer 190s on departure but not on arrival, so it's a mixed bag. The CRJ-900, however, is quieter than the CRJ-700 across the board and it can't use commuter slots, so my point is still the same.]
Well, the general excuse is the long-loved “slippery slope” argument. If we touch the noise ordinance for this small change, then that opens it up to allow for a million other changes and it could potentially crumble completely. Uh huh, right. Sounds like an excuse to me. But this isn’t the airport’s excuse, because they don’t control this at all. It would be up to the city council to make the change.
I think we’ve all seen how the Long Beach City Council operates, so the chances of this happening are slim these days, but there doesn’t seem to be a good reason not to change it. If the ordinance could be changed to allow the same number of flights but based upon noise instead of weight, it would make the most sense. This would keep noise down in the community as well as help quickly fill those empty slots. Seems like the smart thing to do.
[Updated 7/24 @ 3p to reflect additional noise info about small jets]