[aesop_image imgwidth=”500px” img=”http://www.signaltribunenewspaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Screen-Shot-2016-10-27-at-5.32.50-PM.png” credit=”Courtesy City of LB” align=”right” lightbox=”on” caption=”If city leaders and airport authorities eventually approve whether or not the Long Beach Airport will accommodate international flights, they will need to approve a proposal to build a customs inspection facility, which has been at the center of recent controversy. JetBlue has proposed about six to eight international destinations south of the border as far as Panama City. Community meetings to study the issue began last week.” captionposition=”right” revealfx=”off”] [aesop_character name=”CJ Dablo” caption=”Staff Writer” align=”left” force_circle=”off”] A major meeting that will analyze Long Beach Airport’s potential international future is coming, but the community will have to wait to hear how soon that will be.
The Long Beach City Council is expected to further examine a controversial proposal from JetBlue Airways, which has requested a customs facility so that it could offer international flights. The study had been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15, but as of press time, this date has not yet been confirmed.
Numerous residents, who say they live under the flight path, have criticized the proposal to build a customs facility at the local airport. Community meetings were held on Oct. 20 and Oct. 25. At each of these meetings, Jacobs, a consulting engineering company, presented an overall positive report on the impact of the federal-inspection services (FIS) facility. If city leaders agree to accommodate international flights out of Long Beach, building that facility would be a necessary step.
According to a presentation from David Tomber, an aviation principal from Jacobs, six to eight cities in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador have been listed as “probable international destinations” for JetBlue Airways.
According to Tomber’s presentations over the last week, the potential construction of the FIS facility would mean about 200 to 250 jobs, and the company projected “$31 million to $38 million in one-time output.” Jacobs also determined that the economic contribution of the potential FIS facility would mean about “350 jobs and $36.4 million in annual output.” It also estimated that international travelers would spend $104 million per year.
Long Beach has been known for its strict airport-noise ordinance, which residents had fought for years to establish and then protect. Community members who criticized transforming the domestic airport into an international one cited the ordinance as one of the main reasons behind their opposition to the customs facility. They fear that a major transition to international service would open the door for the noise ordinance to be challenged and then possibly weakened or eliminated altogether.
The public-comment period at both the Oct. 20 and Oct. 25 meetings drew a number of individuals from the community who voiced concerns about an international airport.
“It’s critical that everyone here be aware of the true risk that an FIS facility represents,” Long Beach resident Bob Joy said during the public-comment period at the Oct. 25 presentation. He went on to describe the rarity of the local airport-noise ordinance, since it is an “exemption” to one federal law called the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA), which applies to other airports throughout the U.S. “If our noise ordinance falls, we revert to the!ANCA, which allows unlimited flights 24-7, with no noise restrictions.”
There is a major dispute over whether the noise ordinance is at risk. According to Tomber’s presentation on Oct. 25, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had concluded in two letters to the City that building the FIS facility would “not negatively impact the noise ordinance.”
Most recently, Mark Bury, who serves as the deputy chief counsel for the FAA, wrote a letter last week to the Long Beach city attorney’s office, stating that an international-service facility would not weaken the noise ordinance and included a copy of another letter sent to JetBlue Airways last year.
“Concerns that the introduction of international service consistent with the current noise ordinance would undermine that ordinance or cause a change in the FAA’s position toward it are unwarranted,” Deputy Chief Counsel Patricia McNall wrote. He did also note that a potential new carrier could challenge the noise ordinance, if its representatives believe the ordinance is a “barrier to entry” into the market. The carrier then could file a complaint with the FAA. In that case, city leaders could choose to defend the ordinance or consider another course of action, Bury concluded.
There are next steps for the city council, once the date to discuss the proposal has been confirmed. Tomber noted that at that date, councilmembers will hear the feedback from the residents and commissioners. It has not yet been determined if city leaders at that time will be expected to vote whether to proceed with the customs facility. If they do move forward with the plan, there will be numerous steps for further approval.
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