The Long Beach City Council will decide at its meeting tonight, January 19, at city hall whether to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of adding a facility for U.S. Customs and Border Protection clearance at Long Beach Airport to allow international flights.
After receiving three responses to a request for qualifications (RFQ) issued last September, airport staff recommends the city council enter into a one-year contract with Jacobs Engineering Group of Fort Worth, Texas, that would conduct the study at a cost of about $350,000, according to a city staff report.
Airport staff expects the study to be completed in July, after which findings will be presented to the city council.
Last July, the city council voted 6-3 to move forward with a study on the feasibility of adding a Federal Inspection Service (FIS) facility to provide U.S. Customs clearance and allow international flights at the airport. Opponents to the approval were 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw, 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga and 8th District Councilmember Al Austin.
The city council agreed that there would be at least two community meetings on the findings of the study, which would forecast the number of additional general aviation flights, including corporate and private jets that would utilize the FIS facility, assess potential legal threats to the airport’s noise ordinance and consider additional security risks associated with international flights.
The study comes after JetBlue Airways, the airport’s main air carrier for nearly 15 years, submitted a letter to the city last February, formally requesting that the city consider adding a FIS facility to the airport, as the airline foresees profitable growth potential in flights to Mexico and Latin America.
JetBlue, which holds 32 of the airport’s 41 air carrier slots under the city’s noise ordinance, meanwhile, reduced several unprofitable domestic flights from Long Beach last year, while Horizon Air, a regional air carrier, pulled out of the market entirely.
Lou Anthony, JetBlue’s general manager at Long Beach Airport, said in an e-mail to the Business Journal last July that the airline has “evolved” its business model over the years and now focuses more on “international opportunities.”
“We want to add international flying from Long Beach to that winning formula,” he said.
Anthony noted that the number of domestic air carriers at the airport has declined significantly, noting that that many airlines have left Long Beach after going through multiple bankruptcy filings and consolidations.
He added that, “Competition, especially the low-fare competition that JetBlue delivers, is needed now more than ever before.”
A group of homeowners adjacent to the airport, however, have opposed JetBlue’s proposal of allowing international flights, expressing fears that an FIS facility would only open up legal challenges to the city’s noise ordinance.
On the other hand, airport officials have stated publicly that JetBlue does not plan to request more flights than it already has or intend to compromise the city’s noise ordinance.
Anthony echoed that sentiment, pointing out that adding international flights would be a boon for the local economy while the noise ordinance would remain intact.
“With our respect for the sanctity of the noise ordinance governing operations at the airport and our current underutilization of allocated slots, we can maintain our domestic network while adding exciting new business and leisure markets that will grow economic activity both at the airport and through the entire Long Beach community,” he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials stated last year that it could take “a minimum of three years” before an FIS facility at Long Beach Airport is approved by required authorities and becomes operational.
In a phone interview with the Business Journal, Kevin McAchren, owner of Airserv, a provider of support services at the airport, said the process of studying and applying for an FIS facility should be “expedited,” noting that international flights could help boost tourism and expand trade with Mexico and Latin America.
“I think you have a tremendous demand with the ethnic diversity in the Long Beach area for personal traffic and business traffic as well,” he said. “This needs to be done as quickly as it can.”
According to city staff, an evaluation committee, including Airport Director Bryant Francis and other airport officials, determined that Jacobs Engineering Group, considered “one of the industry’s leading providers of global, comprehensive aviation services,” was most qualified to provide all aspects of the feasibility study.
“Drawing on more than 60 years of airport experience, Jacobs brings best practices and innovations from around the world to serve the Long Beach Airport and has proven qualifications to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study,” city staff said, adding that the firm has provided consulting services to the city and other airports in the region.
Jacobs proposes to use in-house consultants and subcontracted consultants, including La Costa Consulting, Frasca & Associates, BonTerra, Psomas, Applied Research Associates, Lee Andrews Group and Jacobus & Yuang.
Components of the study are expected to include market analysis, airport scope and capacity, financial feasibility, economic impact, assessment of environmental impact and security risk assessment, according to city staff.
In addition, the city attorney’s office is expected to conduct its own risk assessment of the potential threats to the city’s noise ordinance and consider a plan to mitigate impacted neighborhoods and schools from environmental and health impacts should the noise ordinance become “invalidated,” city staff said.
According to the city staff report, the airport is requesting an “appropriation increase” in the airport enterprise fund to cover the cost of the study that would be “offset by airport operating revenue.”