Long Beach Looks to Jack Up Fines, Take Away Slots From Late Night Offenders (That’s You, JetBlue)

I know not everyone here appreciates a good story from my hometown airport here in Long Beach, but there is a fight brewing that’s going to put a whole lot more pressure on JetBlue in years to come. For over 15 years, the airline has been the dominant player in Long Beach, but with Southwest coming in last year and showing interest in more slots, the airport seems to be thinking it has some leverage for the first time in a long time. It’s going to flex its muscles by toughening up on late night curfew violators and those who underutilize their slots. Want to guess who will be impacted?

The proposed changes to the noise ordinance could make it very difficult for JetBlue to keep up the status quo. These new rules would increase fines dramatically for those airlines that violate the noise ordinance, but more importantly it would also strip slots away from those carriers that become frequent violators. There is only one frequent violator, and it’s JetBlue. The airline’s slots may be at risk if this change occurs as planned next year.

Since the mid-1990s, Long Beach has had its current noise ordinance with penalties for those who violate it. The 10pm to 11pm hour is sort of a soft curfew, but violations between 11pm and 7am have been under the same fee structure for 20 years. Here’s a look at the current and proposed changes, as best I can gather. (There seems to be some discrepancy between sources on whether there are fines still currently issued for the first two violations or not.)

Violation Current
Rolling 12 Months)
Proposed
(Flat 24 Month Period)
1st Violation Notice Sent, Phone Call Required $2,500
2nd Violation Notice Sent, Written Response Required $2,500
3rd Violation $100 $2,500
4th/5th Violation $300 $2,500
6th-10th Violation $300 $3,500 – $5,000
11th-19th Violation $300 $5,000 – $10,000
20th Violation and Beyond $300 $5,000 – $10,000 and
possible loss of slots

This is, of course, a huge increase but it’s also not indicative of what all airlines pay today. JetBlue has always had a problem obeying the curfew because its East Coast hubs fall apart as soon as the weather gets ugly. Now with five daily flights to fog-prone San Francisco as well, it gets hit on both ends. And JetBlue really gets in trouble because it wants to fly redeyes to the East Coast. That means the airline has to schedule its flights to Boston, JFK, and Ft Lauderdale butting up against the 10pm curfew so that they don’t arrive too ridiculously early on the other side of the country. There’s not much room for error, but errors happen often.

Because of JetBlue’s semi-frequent flights during curfew, the city prosecutor had the option of going after the airline for breaking the law. Many years ago, the two parties entered into a consent decree where JetBlue would pay $3,000 for each of the first 6 violations per quarter and then $6,000 per violation after that, and the money would fund the city library. That consent decree was recently modified so that JetBlue will now pay a flat $6,000 for every violation, not a big change.

I reached out to the city prosecutor’s office to understand whether the consent decree means JetBlue won’t be subject to the new proposed fines from the airport, but I didn’t hear back. Technically, these come from different entities, however, so presumably the goal would be to make them both apply. This isn’t really about jacking up revenue, however. It’s about making the violations stop through higher penalties.

Take a look at this chart:

While the stats by airline haven’t been released yet through June, we do know the total number of violations in June of 2017 was 21, making for a total of 133 in the first six months of the year, a huge increase over previous years. I’ll bet July was worse. And the vast majority of those are JetBlue’s. This might not sound bad, but consider this. This doesn’t include the much greater volume of violations during the soft curfew from 10pm to 11pm, and there are only 150-151 days in the first five months of the year. The violations are pretty frequent when you think about it that way.

There is plenty of debate in Long Beach about whether a customs facility should be allowed or how much traffic there should be, but there is virtually no debate that the noise ordinance should be obeyed. There’s no doubt that JetBlue may have some unique operational issues that lead to these violations, but there are ways to mitigate them through scheduling practices if there was an interest. Somehow, that doesn’t appear to be.

I asked JetBlue’s corp comm team some questions about why things had gotten worse and what the airline was doing to fix the problem. All I got was the useless, generic statement that it has floated to other outlets blaming air traffic control and sneaking in a line supporting air traffic control privatization. It’s not worth me reprinting, so you can read it here if you want.

This statement seems insane. After the city made the mistake of shooting down the airline’s request for a customs facility, JetBlue should be mad. I wouldn’t have blamed the airline if it pulled up stakes and walked away. But if it’s going to stay, it needs to do a better job of obeying the noise ordinance so it doesn’t risk losing the supporters it has in the community. This statement doesn’t indicate any interest in proactively trying to fix the problem.

This is obviously resonating locally, because for years the mantra from the anti-airport group has been “don’t touch the noise ordinance” for fear of it being too fragile to survive alterations. But armed with precedent (John Wayne down the road made similar alterations a couple years ago) and an increase in violations, the airport thinks the time is right to actually try to update the ordinance.

The fees will certainly hurt the airline’s already questionable financial performance in Long Beach, but that’s not really what this is about. This is about Long Beach flexing its new-found muscles now that JetBlue isn’t the only game in town.

Before, threatening to take slots away from JetBlue would have resulted in empty slots. Now it would result in Southwest scooping them up. So if JetBlue wants to keep those slots, it will have to stop violating the curfew. Oh, but wait, there’s more.

There’s a kicker in this proposal that also would require increased slot utilization. Today airlines are required to use their slots a little more than half the time in order to keep them. This would change it to say slots must be utilized a least 60 percent of the time in any given month, 70 percent of the time in any given quarter, and 85 percent of the time in any full year. No more slot-squatting would be allowed. JetBlue has been guilty of that in the past.

I have no legal opinion on this, but the changes seem fair. They’re also bound to make JetBlue’s flights even less profitable (or, uh, more unprofitable), and could theoretically be the final straw. Before, a move like this would have been unthinkable since nobody else was interested in filling the void if JetBlue left. But now with Southwest hungry for more, the airport seems to be emboldened. I just hope this doesn’t backfire.

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Hov
Guest

I don’t know enough about the history of Long Beach aviation, but I do recall JetBlue being the only major game in town with reasonable fares for a long time before Long Beach airport was even a blip on any travelers radar. All this JetBlue bashing now just seems so “bite the hand that feeds you” in a way.
I guess if the goal is to return to less competition, then the myriad steps LBC has taken and is taking to make operating or expanding service difficult is a great plan.

ChuckMO
Guest
ChuckMO

The minute Southwest got their initial 4 slots at LGB I suspected it was do or die time for B6. Naturally, B6 increased it’s slot usage to prevent WN from getting more but the die was cast. WN will be circling like a vulture ready to pounce on any slot it can pry away from B6. This latest development means its popcorn time.

Simon
Guest
Simon

Two thoughts: First, would be interesting if Heathrow adopted the same approach to placate the local community for the third runway. Second: possible future Ask Cranky: given your point re needing to leave by 10pm for curfew, but not too early so the landing time is reasonable at the other end of the flight: how often do airlines fly slower than necessary for passenger convenience? Or does the extra fuel (from inefficiency) and possible under utilisation make this a non-starter? Is a less efficient flight (to a limited extent) better than no flight at all? And how often planes sometimes… Read more »

Bob
Member
Bob

Well maybe people should think before buying a home near an airport and blame Airlines for noise. Probably the same people who want to fly out of Long Beach and Orange County. Don’t see East Coast residents complaining about noise especially with the new runway at FLL.

Kilroy
Guest
Kilroy

Yup. Reminds me of people who buy a home near a gun range or railroad tracks and complain about the noise. Look on Google Maps and swing by the house at a few different times of the day, it’s note that hard.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Yeah, this is the standard defense. Makes little sense in those case because B6 is violating the existing law, and increasingly so.

In this case it is B6 who decided to go into an airport with curfew rules. They should have looked a the rules.

Kilroy
Guest
Kilroy

Agree that B6 should obey the rules in place. Also agree that a few hundred dollars in fines per flight is not much of a deterrent, and that “obey the curfew and use the slots or you lose them” should be the rule.

TC
Guest
TC

I don’t know where you are getting your information about FLL, but the runway construction was delayed for close to 15 years as the residents who abut the expanded South runway fought tooth and nail to block the runway expansion. Even now, they still complain almost on a daily basis even though the government and the airport had agreed to pay and constructed noise abatement entities as well as paid for more soundproofing of said peoples’ homes which over half are trailers that need to be removed for the sake of future hurricane damage liability.

Scottstlfl
Member
Scottstlfl

Long Beach grow the “F” up and accept your only economic growth potential is air travel. Review what St Louis did: buy out and build. Of course STL collapsed with TWA but you will not. Embrace your future.

David M
Guest

The market dynamics aren’t remotely the same between LGB and STL. STL isn’t 20 miles from the world’s fourth busiest airport.

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

How does this new fine structure in total compare to SNA and other California airports? Are flights allowed at SNA or other airports after their curfew hours? If so, what are the fines?

Rhhett
Member
Rhhett

Tim – hard versus soft curfews – and total curfew versus arrival-only (like SAN). The SAN community, through the Airport’s Airport Noise Advisory Committee, which has been in place since 1980, takes the arrival-only curfew seriously with their fine structure and process… fines were doubled in 2006 and a multiplier was added that further penalized airlines that habitually violate.. Although all suspected violations run through an Airport Committee who reviews and has the final determination as to fine or not.. weather delays at the airport close to departure time, ATC delays in the departure window, bona-fide emergencies, and maintenance delays… Read more »

Tim Dunn
Member
Tim Dunn

Thanks CF and Rhhett…. My question is still are there are any airports in California or elsewhere where either takeoffs or landings are not permitted at certain times of the night and ATC will not clear you to land or does the airline simply choose to either land or takeoff knowing that they are subject to a fine? @Bill Hough B6′ problem at LAX is that there aren’t any extra gates available for B6 to lease. They would require several gates to move their entire operation from LGB to LAX. LAX complies with airport access requirements for new entrants but… Read more »

David M
Guest

I just want to jump in and clarify since the description of the SAN curfew might be a bit misleading. “arrival-only” means that only arrivals are allowed and departures are prohibited/subject to fines. SAN permits arrivals 24/7 but restricts departures.

Rhhett
Member
Rhhett

Good clarification – thank you.

Bill Hough
Guest
Bill Hough

It’s hard to understand why any airline would willingly subjugate itself to Long Beach’s draconian noise regulations B6 should just pack up and move to LAX.

Mark
Member
Mark

There is no room for JetBlue to expand at LAX, certainly not without FAA implemented flow control and strongly considering slots. It is an airport built to accommodate 69 million annual passengers, not the 82 million that fly in/out of there these days. There is only one airport in Southern California that can accommodate that amount of additional traffic: ONT.

Bill Hough
Guest
Bill Hough

Fair enough. B6 should move it’s LGB operation to ONT, then. Note that I have no dog in the fight, having no reason to fly to LGB. I simply cannot understand why any airline manager would willingly put up with the headaches of operating at LGB.

Rhhett
Member
Rhhett

Take look at what San Diego Airport Authority did to their noise ordinance (for Lindbergh Field) in 2006.. the only way to make the airlines stop busting (hard) curfews is make a significant number of the flights cost more to run than they bring in.. and FAA would have a hard time allowing that to happen..

Mike Kowal
Member
Mike Kowal

I wasn’t aware of the potential flight loss for JB. Thank you for pointing this out, it could be a big deal! I assume prior to this change JB et al, will have to agree and the FAA have to bless. Don’t think it will happen. Opens a huge can of worms!

Chicago Chris
Member

Definitely reminds me of San Diego. They not only started reinforcing it in the last decade, but really increased it over the last year (50% vs 80% from 2015 to 2016). However there’s a large difference. San Diego’s curfew starts at 11:30pm instead of 10pm. Plenty of time to schedule red-eyes and I think it’s more reasonable to ask for quiet closer to midnight than 10pm. JetBlue was a frequent offender before the crack down. Especially the Boston flight. Airport authority worked with JetBlue to adjust its schedule to avoid it. JetBlue is now doing much better with noise complaints… Read more »

Mark
Member
Mark

The question about LGB for any airline is “what’s to like?” LGB is the lowest-airfare, lowest-yield, and lowest-revenue airport in Southern California (including LAX, SNA, ONT, BUR, and even little PSP)… and it’s not even close. As an executive from an airline not-to-be-named said to me recently: “we left Long Beach because we were tired of paying to fly out of that airport.” CY 2016 Origin Fare Gross Fare Yield % Free Revenue/Day LAX $176 $205 $0.113 8.3% $10,158,890 SNA $164 $193 $0.153 10.1% $2,104,233 ONT $161 $192 $0.162 8.6% $866,513 BUR $132 $157 $0.195 9.9% $731,403 PSP $192 $226… Read more »

Spirit FF
Member

OK, there needs to be some clarification. First LGB DOES NOT have a curfew! However, the noise limits between 10p-7a go to a level where a Cessna 150 can’t even meet (79db), so it becomes a defacto curfew. But “legally” LGB does not have an operational curfew, except for airline schedules which must be scheduled between 7a-10p. Also, JetBlue has signed a “Consent Decree” with the city, which is separate from the Noise Ordinance. For each violation, JetBlue currently pays $3,000 to a library fund. I believe, in 2016, they paid $696,000 to the fund, which is a complete write… Read more »

Rob
Guest
Rob

So you know, BUR does not have a curfew.
The only reason B6 would cancel a flt out of BUR is if the weather prevented the arrival of the inbound aircraft.

121Pilot
Guest
121Pilot

Does Long Beach want JetBlue out? Because right now B6 is losing money trying to block SW and this will only worsen that substantially. Where will they be when Jet Blue pulls out completely?

121Pilot
Guest
121Pilot

I’m also curious cranky since you say these violations can be mitigated by schedule changes how you would do that if you were in charge?

Tom in LasVegas
Guest
Tom in LasVegas

There is a macro issue in all of Southern California. Everyone loves low fares, frequent service, and easy in and out access to a gate. But the number of whiny people in SC about noise is massive, even with aircraft noise much less than 25 years ago. So ground and runway congestion increases and solutions are non existent because of eternal CEQA analyses and public opposition. San Diego is an embarrassment for a City that size, but don’t even think about the idea of moving civilian flights to Miramar or finding another solution. Or how about a big airport at… Read more »

GM
Guest
GM

The community will support this measure because they think it will improve the noise pollution from the airport. They won’t be happy when flights are getting canceled every day to avoid breaking curfew.