Long Beach Airport to Prosecute Violations of Aircraft Noise Limits

DECEMBER 20, 2002

After months of complaints by Long Beach Airport area residents about ear-rattling late night commercial passenger and charter jet flights, the Long Beach city prosecutor has filed misdemeanor charges against three airlines for continued noise violations.

The misdemeanor complaints are the first charges filed under the Long Beach airport noise compatibility ordinance and allege that American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Komar Aviation LLC continued flying aircraft after 10 p.m. despite repeat ed past administrative fines. Convictions could net a $500 fine or up to six months in jail, or both.

Representatives of the airlines are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 28 in Long Beach Superior Court. The complaints were filed by City Prosecutor Tom Reeves on Friday. "All of them got letters that say 'Don't do it,' but they continue to do it," Reeves said. "The operators can solve the problem. I can punish them if they don't."

The city's noise ordinance is touted as one of the strictest on the books at U.S. airports. Long Beach Airport and the city can regulate the number of daily commercial passenger flights into and out of the facility.

Except for emergency aircraft, military planes and law enforcement helicopters and planes, all others are in violation of the ordinance if they land or take off after 10 p.m. Depending on the reason for the activity, the city can be lenient with violators, especially if weather or delays in the nation's air system cause the violation. But flights after 11 p.m. are automatic violations and carry an initial $100 fine and $300 fine for subsequent violations.

Residents, however, have long complained that the punishments for violating the ordinance are too weak, asking: What's a $100 or $300 fine to a major commercial airline? "It's a lot like slapping your wrist if you don't do what your mother says," said Rae Gabelich, head of the nonprofit residents group, LBHUSH2. "What's a $100 or $300 fine? It's one passenger seat."

The city has argued it wanted to impose stiffer fines but a federal judge who reviewed the noise ordinance which was part of a settlement of a legal battle between residents wanting to cap flights and airlines wanting to increase activity said higher fines were too "onerous."

The misdemeanor charges, the last resort after fines and consultations between airlines and airport operators, are meant to be the hammer. Each count filed carries a maximum fine of $500, although the municipal code was recently changed to upgrade the maximum fine to $1,000 and some counts may fall under that new higher fine, Reeves said.

JetBlue Airways, which operates the most daily commercial flights, was charged with 10 counts of violating the noise ordinance. American Airlines was charged with four counts and Komar, a charter company, charged with five counts.

According to airport records, JetBlue has had 49 violations since September 2001; American has had 34 since May 1997; and, Komar Aviation has had four dating back to December 2000.

Airport staff has worked closely with the airlines to solve the problem, and issued three mandatory warnings before initiating the complaints with the prosecutor, Reeves said. "You can't continue to do it. What we are trying to do is get control," Reeves said.

Gabelich agrees but said there are still areas where control can be stiffened. "My greatest problem is that a flight can fly late at night without a fine if it's due to weather or mechanical problems," Gabelich said. "What other reason is there for a commercial airliner to be delayed?"

Source: Long Beach Press Telegram