MIAMI — Last Wednesday, Long Beach’s Prosecutor, Doug Haubert, announced that a process to amend the city’s noise ordinance will finally take place, punishing all airlines arriving after the airport’s closing time, 22:00.
According to the prosecutor, JetBlue—the airport’s largest carrier—has agreed to the increased violation fine, which climbs to US $6,000 per infraction.
“The increment was requested by the city prosecutor’s office as a result of what appears to be a trend in recent quarters of increased late night flights by JetBlue,” Haubert said.
With 84% of late flights in 2014, 80% in 2015, and 82% in 2016, reports show that JetBlue is the airline with most accumulated violations. Other airlines that offer scheduled flights to Long Beach Airport are Delta, Southwest, and American Airlines.
The Prosecutor also announced that the increased fine will be retroactive to July 1, 2017.
Philip Stewart, Manager of Corporate Communications at JetBlue, told Airways that the airline builds its flight schedule to adhere to the noise ordinance and makes every effort to respect it.
“When a flight operates beyond the curfew time,” he says, “it’s often due to air traffic control related issues at some of the busiest airports on the east coast and in northern California.”
Stewart claims that JetBlue is working with elected officials to mitigate these instances and is a strong supporter of Air Traffic Control (ATC) reform.
Growing late-night operations
Long Beach Airport was compelled to enforce these penalties because airline operations occurring after 23:00 have been on the rise in recent years. According to the airport’s records, the number of flights that landed past the curfew hours climbed from 81 in 2014, to 104 in 2015 and to 163 in 2016.
“At the end of the day,” says Haubert, “the compromise that was reached increases the deterrent and, hopefully, will reduce the chances of late night flights.”
Long Beach Airport has registered a 50% increase in passenger flows compared to the first half of 2017. Numbers have climbed from 1.3 million to 1.8 million in the January-June period, airport officials announced on Monday.
Noise Ordinance Precedent
The first consent decree between JetBlue and Long Beach Airport was negotiated in 2003, raising fines from $100-300 up to $3,000 for the first 6 months. Every subsequent violation was fined at $6,000.
These restrictions were created under a federal aviation law that was passed in 1990. The law states that the noise ordinance sets a sound threshold that’s measured in decibels, placing a curfew between 22:00 and 07:00 for both departures and arrivals. It also restricts the number of flights to 50 every day.
However, the airport extends a one-hour grace period from 22:00 to 23:00 for delayed flights.
Even though the airport has a multimillion dollar noise monitoring system that helps them make sure the law isn’t broken, Haubert reassures that all the funds that are raised via these fines will go towards the Long Beach Library Foundation.
To ensure transparency, the Prosecutor agreed with the foundation that whenever an audit is requested, the financial books will be at any agency’s disposal. The decree stipulates that these funds can only be used for books, publications, online databases, and family learning centers.
Tight Margins, Changes Needed?
With airlines operating at minimal margins, it remains to be seen how profitable Long Beach’s operation will be for JetBlue if the airline continues to fly past curfew.
According to the DOT reports, both JetBlue and Southwest performed at a very similar on-time percentage rates of ~80%. However, the biggest difference between them shows that JetBlue frequently had dozens of flights per month with more than two hours behind schedule.
Surprisingly, most of these flights were originating from west coast origins, whereas east coast routes from Boston and New York often arrived ahead of schedule.
If JetBlue wants to avoid infracting on this new ordinance, it will have to anticipate its last arrivals of the day, which are much closer to the end than any of the other operators.