LONG BEACH — Fearing a potential court battle, the City Council has put off a decision on a proposed ban of late-night flights by two airlines that have violated noise standards at Long Beach Airport.
After a 90-minute debate, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to wait two months before determining if PSA and Jet America should be restricted from using the airport between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The ban was proposed by the city's airport management after the two airlines repeatedly violated noise standards, mostly during late-night landings at the airport. Noise standards at the facility are stricter during evening hours.
Noise monitoring equipment at the airport has recorded 14 violations by Jet America, most of them since mid-December. PSA has five violations, three coming last month.
Potential $300 Fine
Under the city's noise control ordinance, air operators can be fined $300 for each incident or "excluded from further operations at the airport" after a third recorded violation. City officials proposed the ban on night flights as a preliminary measure against the airlines, in addition to fines levied against each.
Although neither airline has flights scheduled to depart or arrive at the airport after 10 p.m., problems with air traffic or weather can delay the arrival of jets until after the 10:30 p.m. curfew.
While several council members noted that late-night jet noise has posed a problem, they said they wanted to work with the two airlines instead of going ahead with a ban.
"It would be foolhardy to jump in right away and tempt a lawsuit from the airline industry," said Councilman Edd Tuttle, a longtime critic of airport noise.
Over the past few years the City Council has been thwarted in its attempts to control the number of flights at the airport. A federal judge in July, 1983, set a limit of 18 flights at the airport, but city legal officials say that ruling does not outlaw the curfew on late-night flights.
Councilman Thomas Clark, whose district is directly under the flight path of planes landing at Long Beach Airport, said the council may simply be delaying the inevitable.
"My feeling is that 60 days from now we're still going to be right back here with the same problems with those evening flights," Clark said.
Mayor Ernie Kell agreed, saying "the best way to get the attention of the airlines is to enforce the laws."
Spokesmen for PSA and Jet America, however, said the delay will give the airlines time to work with city officials to hammer out a solution acceptable to both sides.
The airline officials maintained that many of the aircraft violated noise standards by only a fraction of a decibel and would have been within legal limits if their arrivals had not been delayed.
"The problem is not of our making," said Dennis O'Dell, a PSA vice president and associate general counsel. "We're working very, very hard to be a good neighbor."
O'Dell termed the late-night noise "a minor problem" but insisted the airlines "want to work with the City of Long Beach to cure it."
He suggested the city adopt a waiver system for jets that arrive after the airport's 10:30 p.m. curfew because of weather conditions or air traffic tie-ups. Such a waiver is used at Orange County's John Wayne International Airport, O'Dell said.
William Masterson, an attorney representing Jet America, expressed concern that the adoption of restrictions on the airline's late-night flights could prompt efforts to ban its entire operation at Long Beach Airport.
"On a worst case basis, they might try to say you can't use the airport again," Masterson said.
Jet America officials in recent weeks have shuffled the airline's schedule so evening flights are arriving an hour earlier, officials said.
In a separate action Tuesday, the council voted to delay for one week any action against three small airport operators who also violated noise standards.
The delay was prompted by a problem with meeting notices that were sent to the three carriers. The council might order restrictions next week on them.
Under those restrictions, American Eagle Aviation and Dynamic Air would be forbidden from flying certain types of aircraft during late-night hours.
Planes operated by the Piper Air Center would be restricted to the airport's longest runway, which would allow the aircraft an additional mile for ascent before reaching a residential area.