Long Beach’s 75,000 Pound Weight Limit

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]

28 Responses to Long Beach’s 75,000 Pound Weight Limit

  1. SmarteCart Thief says:

    I was excited about the prospect of ExpressJet using LGB as a focus of regional operations, but we all know how that turned out. I might be mistaken, but I recall Vision Air looking into it as well. If worked right, LGB has immense potential.

    It is funny how agencies and committees make up arbitrary numerical parameters. I once heard that the rule regarding no unattended vehicles within 300 ft. of an airport terminal was made up at the last minute, during a smoke break, before a meeting to decide the mandate.

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    They just don’t want to make a simple change like that because like what was said, it would open it up to other changes. Meaning the city council would have to deal with all the voters who don’t like the airport noise complaining and maybe voting them out of office. Letting it stand, no citizen can complain much as the council can just say this it what is in place.

    That’s the big problem in this country, those that can make changes usually are afraid to unless they can cleary see it would help their political career. If it might get negative press, they don’t want to get involved unless they can blame someone else and still come out looking good.

  3. David says:

    If the 75,000 limit came from a decision by a court, then the presiding judge may have written a formal judgement, explaining the justification for the court’s decision. Consider a trip to the local court, and a look through the archives to read up on that written judgment.

  4. Oliver says:

    Long Beach Airport needs to put their money where their mouth is… If they want to keep JetBlue, the airport & city council should really start acting to build community support and rally around the airline to build a better business partnership. As the Crankyflier/Airport/City Council debacle showed, tensions can get heated.

    The weight limit should be lifted and only a noise ordinance be in place.

  5. US Airways (disclosure: I live in CLT but have no status with US) have hubs in LAS and PHX, both of which are less than half the distance of United’s hub in DEN. US Express (i.e., Mesa) operates four flights a day from Phoenix with CRJ-9’s. LGB has an opportunity to lure more US flights on the LAS route, which is served now by two JetBlue flights.

  6. ttjoseph says:

    Who stands to lose more from JetBlue pulling out of LGB? The city or the airline?

  7. A says:

    Was anyone complaining about the noise when the DC-10’s were rolling off the assembly line? As I recall they all lifted off from Long Beach and were well over 75k pounds.

    Everyone I’ve met that has complained about airport noise has bought their house knowing full well the airport was there. I don’t have much sympathy for the complaints and think the noise legislation is largely a drag on commerce for the local regions where such limitations are applied.

  8. SmarteCart Thief says:

    Even if Horizon wasn’t deferring Q400’s, where would they fly them to? They already have PDX/SEA service, so assuming they would do P2P service just as they are in Sonoma County, the only in-range existing Horizon destination I can think of that gives them a monopoly in nonstop terms (and that would be a revenue generating market) would be TUS (I don’t think the #’s would be there for RNO). If LGB had an FIS facility, then a whole new list of markets could be proposed. Perhaps this is an avenue that LGB and city council should consider.

    The only hope, which would never happen from the UA side, would be SFO/DEN as mentioned via SkyWest.

  9. eponymous coward says:

    “Even if Horizon wasn’t deferring Q400’s, where would they fly them to? They already have PDX/SEA service, so assuming they would do P2P service just as they are in Sonoma County, the only in-range existing Horizon destination I can think of that gives them a monopoly in nonstop terms (and that would be a revenue generating market) would be TUS (I don’t think the #’s would be there for RNO).”

    Plus QX flies LAX-RNO, so they’d be cannibalizing their own market pretty badly.

    One might also note that QX has some CRJ700s to go with their Q400s… and has never bothered to turn LGB into a mini-hub with those commuter slots, while launching LAX-PRC and LAX-STS. So I think they see LAX as the preferred airport for expansion over LGB (LGB doesn’t have connecting traffic potential, LAX does).

  10. CF says:

    Bruce – The US Airways Las Vegas hub is a hub no more, so I think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll see that flight come back. (They did operate to Vegas in the past.) It’s just not a great market for them.

    ttjoseph – I think there’s little question that both the city and the airline would lose out if JetBlue left, but the commuter slot issue is something that JetBlue really has not pressed on. So there’s no danger of JetBlue leaving Long Beach over this particular issue . . . yet.

    SmarteCart Thief – I think there are plenty of options that could work. Tucson, Reno, Albuquerque, even Fresno are possibilities. I think that Horizon could try to replicate many of the ExpressJet routes but with the lower cost structure of the Q400, they could work quite nicely.

  11. Hugh Jardonn says:

    Leave it to stupid politicians to prevent anything intelligent from happening. And with McD gone, isn’t noise at LGB down big-time anyway?

  12. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    There you go again, Cranky…. thinking logically [you _have_ to stop doing that...] ;)

  13. CF says:

    Hugh Jardonn (nice) – Commercial traffic is a very small percent of total traffic at Long Beach anyway, so it’s really just something for them to focus on for not good reason. Gulfstream has a finishing center, Boeing still makes C-17s, and there’s even a DC-3 operator. This is also one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country. So there are plenty of places to focus if they’re really concerned about noise and commercial is only a small piece. (BTW, I’m not advocating reducing those activities either – they all belong at LGB.)

  14. SmarteCart Thief says:

    You make a good point about the P2P destinations from LGB, Brett. What I’m wondering is whether Horizon would want to set up stations that don’t already have AS/QX service, i.e. ABQ. Not only that, there are the infrastructure costs related to stationing Q400 specific equipment for one P2P spoke, even though they had to do it at LAS for the STS route (But LAS still had AS Mx services, ABQ would not).

    Thoughts?

  15. Desertkid says:

    Well, I see Lynx as a possibility – the Q400 has a range of over 1,300 miles, so LGBDEN is a possibility. However, I’m not sure what restrictions there are out of DEN to LGB with the altitude.

    Also, keep in mind, with Republic taking over Midwest and Frontier, how does that change the landscape. Should LGB be looking to Republic?

    In regards to the 75,000lbs limit. It was part of the judgement, no one seems to know the basis for that limit. Although, I believe it has something to do with 25L. I believe the weight limit for 25L is 75,000lbs, and the theory was to try to get the commuters to use 25L for departure – spreading the sound away from the monitors at 30.

    As far as changing the limit – jetBlue knew the limit before they bought the E-190s. I credit them for asking, but I think they know the reality.

    Has anyone see updated renderings of the terminal?

  16. CF says:

    SmartCarte Thief – Well, it depends on what they want to do strategically. Remember, Alaska has really been tightening things up with Delta lately, so it wouldn’t be hard to open a new station in Albuquerque – just let Delta handle them.

    Personally, I still think ExpressJet was on to something with their “Southwest Express” style of model. The 50 seat regional jet is not the right plane to do it, but the Q400 very well might be. I think it’s worth a shot, but it would be up to Horizon to decide that for themselves.

    Desertkid – I can’t see a Q400 really working on a route as far as Denver. That’s a long time on that airplane, and I think you might be on to something with the high altitude flying in Denver. Not sure though.

    As for 25L, commercial aircraft always use 12/30 regardless of whether they’re commuters or not. The only time they would use another runway is if 12/30 is closed for some reason (very rarely happens). And then I think 25R is the runway they’d use. But runway use is not a differentiator between commuters and big jets.

    Renderings for the new terminal aren’t out yet. They’re currently working on the design with JetBlue and others – hopefully they’ll have it out soon.

  17. B6 LGB says:

    CF – jetBlue has been talking about the commuter slot with LGB for quite some time now. The noise/weight argument has been discussed since jetBlue first started running E190’s out west. As a jetBlue employee, I would love to see a change in this rule, but at the same time where would you put these new aircraft? There really isn’t an extra gate to board out of. You do technically have counter space for checking in customers, and a pad to park the A/C but US Air currently uses that for a remaining overnight A/C. Personally as much as I advocate LGB going back to change this “rule” the current state of the terminal, it’s boarding lounges, and ramp pads should be the focus. Maybe when these things are completed, then the council can take a look at chnging the noise/weight rule.

  18. Carl says:

    If the City really wanted to fill those slots, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to try to modify the 75K weight limit?

    1) The economic climate is such that I don’t see any airlines wanting to add mainline service to LGB.

    2) I would think that with a democratic administration in place, the FAA may be a little more favorable to the NIMBY’s and would allow such a change to 16.43 without voiding it. However, the DoT did allow the CO ATI.

    I can understand the City’s reluctance to modify 16.43 though. The allocation of slots to JetBlue way back when led to lawsuit and subsequent settlement.

    In the FAA’s response to the agreement, they said “it is unnecessary at this time for the FAA to take a position on whether Chapter 16.43 meets Federal requirements for airport access. At some point in the future, however, the FAA maybe presented with a complaint from a third party under 14 C.F.R. Part 16, or may have reason to review Chapter 16.43 from a compliance standpoint on its own initiative. The FAA thus reserves the right to review the consistency of Chapter 16.43 with Federal law in the future.”

    I would think any modification of 16.43 may trigger a Federal review, and the City is scared.

    Of course, if air travel picks up once the new terminal is complete, I would expect a challenge to 16.43 from either CO/UA or WN.

  19. CF says:

    B6 LGB – I agree 100%. There are definitely down times during the day, but those aren’t going to be at times they’d actually want to schedule a flight. If I’m JetBlue, I’m just starting to lay the groundwork for the opportunity to utilize the commuter slots when the new terminal is done.

    Carl – Or even JetBlue could end up challenging it if they wanted to. I’m really not sure that they want to play it that way, but I agree that someone will eventually.

  20. Carl says:

    CF- Can we qualify as a third party under 14 C.F.R Part 16? :)

    I don’t think JetBlue doesn’t wants to play that game, nor do I think they should. They should try to retain the good guy label, if 16.43 ever gets challenged. If they wanted to challenge 16.43, they probably would have by now.

  21. CF says:

    Carl – Well, as a Long Beach resident, maybe I could file but I’m definitely not going to touch that one with a 10 foot pole!

  22. Bob's your Uncle says:

    Cranky Flyer almost covered all the bases. The rest of the diamond ring is Gulfstream. Those suckers are LOUD!!! They also weigh far less than an E-190 like JetBlue operatates and is willing to schedule into Long Beach Tomorrow!!!

    Noise Limits. Period. Dot. End of discussion. Hello JetBlue.

  23. rm says:

    This 75,000 lb aircraft/noise limit is nothing but a convenient 2-second excuse, for city council members to use to qwell the residents of Long Beach that actually understand what a valuable tax base the LGB airport is. The FAA does not give a crap about what the weight of airplanes going into LGB is. This is only, ONLY an artificial limit set up by the city council. There are certainly 6 six passenger Lear Jets taking off, and 10 ton dump trucks driving nearby, that probably set off the noise sensors well before a JetBlue A320 does. If the Long Beach City Council had a brain, they would expand the terminal area and even consider putting in a Customs location, so JetBlue could run flights to Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta out of there. Maybe they should just go ahead and let this airport completely shut down and let the homeowners near the airport, pick up the slack for the loss of tax revenue. It’s not like these folks didn’t know they were moving next to an airport when they bought their houses.

  24. Desertkid says:

    CF – Think back to the 90’s, there was discussion about ‘commuters’ using 25L. Remember, ‘commuters’ back there were Metros, Jetstreams, and the biggest Brasilia. They did want to spread the noise pool away from 30. This was ‘theory’. Of course, as you know, any pilot will always ask for the longest runway, hence most pilots request 30.

    As far as the Q400 – Horizon flight some long legs LAX-BOI. According to the Bombardier website the range on a Q400 is over 1,000nm (again – that’s theory). What is the max payload range?? I’m guessing closer to 800nm, but I think LGBDEN is do-able with a Q400.

  25. CF says:

    DesertKid – I think you’re right about the Q400 – max payload will get you just enough to get to Boise but not much more. I really don’t think Denver will work.

    BTW, I just updated the post with some additional noise info, but I’ll copy it here for those who are only following the comment thread now:

    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.

  26. David M says:

    It’s sometimes hard to keep track of things, but last I heard DL had only commuter slots, but when I was up there a couple of weeks ago, they were using the CRJ-900 on some of the SLC flights. I remember that AS was originally only able to get commuter slots so they started LGB service with QX’s CRJ-700s but eventually got mainline, but when I was there there was a QX operated flight. Did AS/QX pick up additional commuter slots? Are they operating the CRJ-700 using mainline slots? Did they swap with Delta? Do SkyWest’s CRJ-900s qualify under the lower weight because they’re two class and thus carry fewer passengers than Mesa’s?

  27. CF says:

    David M – Ah, one I actually can answer! Alaska currently has 5 big jet slots and they were using them all for mainline service. They decided to put a Horizon CRJ-700 in Portland and another in Seattle. Instead of using the big jet slots, they opted to request commuter slots. So those are operated as commuters alongside the 5 Delta-allocated commuter slots.

    Alaska still holds those big jet slots, but since they aren’t using them right now, other airlines are allowed to use them on a temporary basis with the understanding that Alaska can kick them out with relatively short notice. So, Delta took that opportunity to use the two big jet slots for its CRJ-900 flying. That started July 1. If Alaska wants those slots back, Delta will have to go back to an aircraft with less than 75,000 pounds.

  28. SmarteCart Thief – I think there are plenty of options that could work. Tucson, Reno, Albuquerque, even Fresno are possibilities. I think that Horizon could try to replicate many of the ExpressJet routes but with the lower cost structure of the Q400, they could work quite nicely.

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