You all know I love nothing more than some local drama at my hometown airport. This time, however, it’s not the customs facility (which continues to slowly crawl through the process), but something more concrete. Bryant Francis, the Airport Director, notified the city on Monday that after reviewing last year’s noise stats, the airport will be increasing the number of daily slot pairs from 41 to 50. This should happen pretty quickly.
Without getting into a huge backstory here, Long Beach has been slot-controlled since the 1990s when community groups and airlines came to an agreement. There would be 25 commuter slots (which are insignificant – Delta uses 3 and that’s it) and a minimum of 41 air carrier slots (which are fully assigned). A minimum? Yeah, using noise profiles back then, a lower boundary of 41 was set to correlate to a maximum amount of noise in the community. Today, airplanes are a lot quieter, so that means more slots can be added and still allow the airport to stay under the noise limit. If airlines suddenly decided they could make millions flying silent gliders, then theoretically there would be no maximum at all. As long as the total air carrier operations stay under the noise limit, then all is well.
This is reviewed annually, but in the past, slots hadn’t been added. Part of the reason is that MD-80s flew here until Allegiant pulled out a couple years back. Those are loud and filled up the noise bucket quickly. But with American ditching more MD-80s every day and Allegiant acquiring newer aircraft, the chance of an MD-80 being deployed again is slim. A review of last year’s noise showed that air carrier flights only used 60 percent of the total allowed. Yes, JetBlue underutilizes its slots so that would account for a big part of the shortfall, but the multiple consultants on the project conservatively scaled it up to show noise levels assuming slots were used 95 percent of the time. Even with that, it was determined that 9 slots could easily be added.
I should add that if JetBlue decides to deploy a fleet of 707s in Long Beach or if Allegiant decided to come back in with MD-80s, then we’d probably go over the noise limit. That means next year, they’d have to cut back. And the first flights to go by law? The loudest ones. Nobody is going to bring in loud airplanes here or it’ll be short-lived.
The City Council is being briefed about this on Tuesday, but happily, the council has no ability to change this unless it wants to try to alter the noise ordinance. That’s a bad idea. After all, the ordinance is one of the few in the nation that’s grandfathered in and allowed to remain intact. Most people agree that trying to make changes to the noise ordinance would put it at risk of being removed entirely. It’s better to keep it as is and work within the confines of what it provides. That’s one area where all sides seem to agree.
So with this change expect to take effect pretty quickly, what are the odds that this will mean a lot more service? Despite many people suggesting that the noise ordinance has been holding back tremendous demand, I’m not buying it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of these new slots went unassigned. Here’s how I view it.
- Delta – I expect Delta to be most interested. It has 2 slots which is uses to fly CRJ-900s to Salt Lake. But it has 3 commuter slots which is uses to fly CRJ-700s (the largest airplane eligible) on the same route. I would think Delta might want a couple more big jet slots so it could ditch the commuter slots and standardize on CRJ-900s. But Atlanta? JFK? I would be shocked.
- Allegiant – Allegiant tried and failed here, but part of the issue was it couldn’t get more slots. What if it could get enough? Would it move from LAX if the price is right? It couldn’t use MD-80s or it would lose those slots within a year due to noise. But with Airbuses, that might be interesting. I still think it’s unlikely, but it makes more sense than for others.
- WestJet or Air Canada – Now here’s an outside the box thought. Canadian airlines don’t need customs facilities because they pre-clear in Canada. Could they sell Long Beach as the gateway to Disneyland and make a flight work? Possibly. I’d think WestJet might be a better bet.
- American – American has 5 big jet slots which it uses to fly to Phoenix. Might it like a couple to send to Dallas/Ft Worth? I would have said yes until American decided to start matching Spirit’s fares on DFW-LAX. Fares are really low there, so I would be surprised if it wanted to add Long Beach, a market that’s tied closely to LAX fares.
- Frontier – Frontier failed miserably on its one effort here, but that was a different airline. I just don’t think Long Beach would be a priority, but maybe I’m wrong. It could be a chance to base an airplane and do some interesting flying. But Frontier isn’t growing. It’s just replacing smaller A319s with A321s. That’s not a good fit for Long Beach.
- JetBlue – I’m sure you were wondering when I’d get here. After all, JetBlue holds 32 of the 41 slots today. Would it want more? I doubt it. In the winter, it flies near the bare minimum, which requires basically flying your slots half the time. (JetBlue may have 17 or 18 daily flights in the winter.) JetBlue could fly more today but it doesn’t want to. Picking up new slots would require it to do more flying it doesn’t want to do now. Seems unlikely, but then again, JetBlue might like to try to prevent competition by squatting on more slots.
- Sun Country – Uh, probably not? I have no clue what that airline does or thinks, so I’ll just say maybe.
- United – If United wanted to fly to Denver or SFO, it probably would have done it with a CRJ-700 years ago. The commuter slots were available, but it had no interest. I don’t see why it would want a bigger airplane now.
- Southwest – Southwest has a very large presence at LAX (which is soon to grow when terminal work is done) and at Orange County. It would be hard to imagine Southwest showing much interest in the 9 slots at Long Beach. I’m sure it’ll take a look, but that would be a real surprise.
- Alaska – Alaska had big jet slots which is gave up a couple years ago. Then it flew commuters until giving up earlier this year. If it wanted to be here, it wouldn’t have left.
- Hawaiian – This might be of marginal interest if Hawaiian had its A321neos, but a widebody? Not a chance.
- Spirit – Spirit prefers primary airports. It continues to build up quickly at LAX. This wouldn’t be of interest.
- Virgin America – To fly to SFO? No. It couldn’t make Orange County work. This won’t either.
Now we sit and wait to see what happens. Since this doesn’t get bogged down as City Council business, I’d think it would move relatively quickly. Some time in the new year, we could see some more flights in Long Beach. Just the idea is exciting, even if it doesn’t result in anything substantial.