It’s been a few years since we’ve had a contentious airport battle here in my hometown of Long Beach, and I’m sure you’ve missed all the combativeness, right? After all, the anti-airport folks had finally jumped on board the plan for the new concourse, and it turned out great. Everyone was happy… with an emphasis on “was.” JetBlue has started talking more about wanting to fly internationally from Long Beach, and it could very well be a great idea. But the anti-airport folks don’t care about what’s good or bad. They just simply oppose anything at the airport short of shutting it down.
JetBlue has been talking for at least a year or so about how it wants to get a customs and immigration facility in Long Beach so it can start flying internationally. This may or may not make sense for the airport depending upon a variety of factors, but it’s a conversation that should unquestionably be had. And it probably will make sense.
As a quick reminder, the airport has a current cap on flights. Aircraft weighing over 75,000 pounds (anything bigger than a CRJ-700) can fly only 41 times a day from the airport. Today, those slots are split between 5 airlines. UPS has 1 as does FedEx. Delta has 2 it uses to Salt Lake and US Airways/American has 5 that go to Phoenix. That leaves 32 to the largest tenant, JetBlue. As airplanes get quieter, a couple more slots are likely to open up under the existing ordinance.
As you can see above, JetBlue isn’t flying all those slots it has and it doesn’t have to. The rule says you basically need to fly your slots half the days and you can keep them. So JetBlue really can fly as little as 17 a day and still not have to relinquish anything. That means there are a lot of slots going unused today. That’s bad for airport revenue, and it’s bad for bringing more people into the city.
The fact JetBlue isn’t utilizing all its slots fully is important, because if JetBlue were flying a full load today, then what would be the incentive to allow international flying? JetBlue has said it is not interested in changing the noise ordinance (previous rumblings about trying to use the Embraer 190s in the commuter slots are completely dead, I’m told). That means a customs/immigration facility wouldn’t increase the number of flights allowed so it would mean that the airport would do the work needed with no real return.
However, since JetBlue isn’t flying a full load today, then building a customs and immigration facility could result in better usage. If the airport is putting any money into this thing, then that should be a requirement for doing the work.
On the other hand, JetBlue could just decide that it wants to pay for all or most of the facility. There is precedent for that; it’s already done it at JFK. And a facility in Long Beach would be orders of magnitude simpler and cheaper than what was built in New York. You just build a box next to the main terminal where people can be processed.
The hardest part is getting the feds to staff it. That is a process that would require the city to request that the airport become a port of entry. That’s really the next step that would need to happen if this is going to go forward. So should it?
Sure it would get JetBlue to start flying more in Long Beach and provide more destinations that people want, but it helps more than just JetBlue and its passengers. After all, the general aviation aircraft based at the airport today can’t come back from international trips without stopping somewhere else first. This would change that. That’s a good thing.
As you can see, this could be beneficial for the city under the right terms. So how do you figure out if those terms can be agreed upon? You meet with each other to discuss the possibilities. Seems normal, right? Not if you’re in the anti-airport crowd.
The general strategy used by this group seems to involve scare tactics and slippery slope arguments in order to kill any sort of plan before its viability could even be discussed.
The local website LBReport.com has been making all kinds of wild accusations through this process, calling the talks “secretive” and saying that the whole thing was “concealed” from the public prior to elections this year. Its coverage has outright stated that allowing international flying “could lead to actions seeking to undermine or collapse the Ordinance.” There’s no basis for that, but it will certainly scare the locals who don’t know the truth.
My former city councilmember has been posting comments on every blog and article she can find to try to drag this down into the mud. Look no further than my Cranky on the Web post last week. She fortunately termed out and is no longer on the council but that doesn’t mean people stop listening to her. That’s bad.
The end result is a wealth of misinformation is reaching the public and they are being robbed of their ability to really understand if this would be good or not. Just look at this letters to the editor section in the local newspaper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, entitled “Should Long Beach Airport offer international flights?”
You see people saying that they’re afraid that this would grow the airport and make it seem less friendly. Flying internationally and growing the airport are, in fact, mutually exclusive. And nobody is talking about growing the airport except for the anti-airport crowd.
I’ve seen people suggest that allowing international flights would result in a cavalcade of 747s. That’s clearly not going to happen. There simply isn’t the kind of demand in Long Beach for anything like that, even if slots came available somewhere down the line.
If international flying is allowed, the only difference we’d see in the beginning would be JetBlue’s existing airplanes simply pointing in different directions. You’d see Mexico and Central America flying with maybe a chance of Canada, but that’s it – they don’t have airplanes that can reach any further. There would be no change in the number of flights allowed.
If done properly, this could result in JetBlue fully operating its slots in the existing noise ordinance instead of leaving several unused. It could also result in more destinations that people want. The key here is that is had to be done properly. I’m sure the city council wouldn’t do this if it were a bad deal, but they have to have the talks to figure it out.
So, all you anti-airport people, let the talks happen to see if they can figure out something that works well for both parties. Save your vitriol for something that’s actually a scourge on our city instead. This should be a good thing if done right.