Long Beach Airport’s coveted noise ordinance could see some major changes as officials seek to slow a spike in late-night curfew violations.
The airport’s decades-old ordinance — grandfathered in under a 1990 federal aviation law — sets a sound threshold, imposes a curfew between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. for takeoffs and landings, and limits the number of commercial flights to about 50 per day.
For years, officials say the regulations were largely successful in minimizing the number of curfew violations, but recently those numbers have been climbing. In the first half of 2017, for instance, there were an average of 22 violations per month, or 133 total. That beats annual tallies from 2013, 2014, and 2015, and is one violation short of the annual total for 2016.
In a statement released this week, Mayor Robert Garcia said the city is committed to reducing the number of nightly curfew violations.
“It’s important that we protect the quality of life of the thousands of residents who are being affected by the constant violations,” he said.
Though there are often legitimate reasons why airplanes veer off schedule, including their vulnerability to the whims of Mother Nature, Long Beach officials are concerned the increasing violations show a disregard for the noise impact on communities under the flight paths. And because the current fine structure is so minimal — $100 for the first incident and $300 for every one thereafter — local leaders worry the financial incentive is not there.
After preliminary talks with the Federal Aviation Administration, the city attorney’s office and outside legal counsel, airport officials are recommending the city begin a public process to take a closer look at its ordinance and make changes that will broaden enforcement capabilities and, ultimately, make life a little easier for affected residents.
Airport Director Jess Romo announced several proposed recommendations this week, including two provisions that would allow officials to impose heftier fines on airlines and strip flight slots from carriers with excessive violations. Officials are also considering upping the mandate for flight slot utilization, meaning airlines would need to operate a minimum number of flights or they could be subject to penalties, according to the announcement.
This would be the first time the noise ordinance is amended since it was enacted in 1995 through a legal settlement, largely because city attorneys have not wanted to jeopardize the protections, and some thought changing the ordinance could open it up to legal challenges from the aviation industry.
However, other airports with noise protections, including John Wayne Airport and San Diego International Airport, have increased fines and made other changes without legal challenge and with the blessing of the FAA, which put Long Beach on steadier ground.
“We are encouraged that with recent administrative regulation changes made at other noise controlled airports, there is precedent for the City to make some adaptations to our Airport noise regulations,” Romo said in a statement.
City Attorney Charles Parkin said officials began seriously exploring the idea this year after hearing repeated complaints from residents and some elected officials that the noise ordinance was not an effective deterrent.
Many of those concerns were raised during a lengthy process in which Long Beach considered a proposal from JetBlue Airways to build a Federal Inspection Station that would have allowed international travel. The City Council voted down the proposal in January.
At this point, the recommendations are preliminary and will still be subject to comments and discussion from airlines, the community, the Federal Aviation Administration and attorneys, both inside and outside of City Hall.
Parkin said airport officials hope to present the recommended changes to City Council by early 2018, if not sooner.