A Southwest Airlines plane comes in for a landing at Long Beach Airport on Thursday, November 10, 2022. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Five more daily flights will be added at Long Beach Airport, for a total of 58, after it was determined noise levels were well below what is allowed under the facility’s strict noise ordinance, according to a city memo released Thursday.

The airport currently allows 53 daily flights, 52 of which are commercial and one that flies cargo. Of those slots, 41 are permanent—as is required by the ordinance—and 12 are supplemental, the latter of which can be adjusted up or down depending on annual noise budgets.

“The addition of five supplemental flight slots demonstrates compliance by our air carriers to our noise ordinance, one of the strictest in the nation,” Airport Director Cynthia Guidry said in an email Thursday. “Because the carriers have significantly reduced late night operations, the noise budget analysis requires that we add supplemental flight slots as an encouragement for them to operate at the lowest possible noise levels.”

Fewer late-night commercial operations is a leading factor for reduced noise, according to airport spokesperson Kate Kuykendall. From Oct. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30 of this year, there were 88 late-night operations, compared to 638 during the same period in 2017-18—an 86% reduction.

JetBlue, formerly the leading carrier at the municipal airport, was notorious for late-night noise violations. The carrier departed Long Beach for good in October 2020.

Long Beach Airport’s noise ordinance was first implemented in 1981 to limit air carrier flights to 15 per day, according to the city website. Two years later, airlines challenged the ordinance, and a federal court entered a preliminary injunction making the minimum number of daily flights 18.

The city, meanwhile, convened a task force, which recommended a daily flight limit of 41. In 1986, the City Council adopted a second noise control ordinance that limited flights to 32 per day.

The federal court once again stepped in, claiming the ordinance was too restrictive. The court ultimately ordered the city to allow a minimum of 41 flights per day.

In October 1994, the city and the airlines entered into a settlement, which was approved by the court seven months later. The settlement allowed the city to enact its current noise ordinance, which limits flights and prohibits operations between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on penalty of fines.

Thursday’s memo notes that modifications to the noise ordinance always pose a risk that the entire ordinance could be rescinded. The city ordinance was granted an exemption from the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which prohibits airports from restricting noise generated by flights or the number of flights to less than what they are rated.

Long Beach is rated by the Federal Aviation Administration for far more flights than it currently allows, but it was grandfathered in due to its agreed-upon ordinance.

Under the noise ordinance, daily flights must be added or removed to ensure volumes don’t exceed the annual noise budget. An analysis of the 2021-22 noise year by Mestre Greve Associates, a division of Landrum & Brown, Inc., and Harris, Miller, Miller and Hanson, showed the airport operated far below the noise budget at two remote monitoring terminals.

According to the analysis, one remote station used 54.7% of its budget, while the other used 67.6%.

During the noise year, air carriers operated an average of 42 flights per day, the city memo states. During the last quarter, carriers averaged 44 per day.

“If the average number of Air Carrier flights per day had been closer to the maximum allowed, the respective noise budgets also would have been closer to the maximum allowed,” the memo reads, “but still below the budget by a sufficient margin to allow additional flight slots beyond the 53 flight slots currently permitted.”

Landrum & Brown recommended allocating an additional six supplemental flight slots, while the peer review by HMMH recommended increasing the limit by five to seven slots. City staff ultimately moved forward with the conservative approach.

Airport staff has 30 days to inform carriers of the additional availability. Carriers must then submit a written request for slots, which will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

The supplemental flight slot waiting list, in order, is: Breeze Airways, Swoop, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

After being awarded one daily flight slot in June, Breeze, a startup founded by JetBlue co-founder David Neeleman, forfeited that slot in September due to nonuse. Swoop also has been offered slots on two separate occasions and passed.

In addition to the Breeze loss, American recently relinquished a slot. Southwest was the only carrier to request both available slots. As the leading carrier at Long Beach Airport, Southwest currently holds 40, or 75%, of the airport’s daily flights, and is likely to pick up more after today’s announcement.

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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.