Burbank Airport officials Monday imposed unprecedented fines on AirCal for alleged violations of the airport's noise rules, then lifted the fines later in the day after determining that no violations had occurred.
The penalties would have been the first imposed by the airport against a commercial airline. They also would have represented the first time in the nation that an airport had used fines, rather than court action, to enforce noise rules, state and federal authorities said.
At issue was whether AirCal had illegally increased the number of "noisier" jetliners it is permitted to fly out of Burbank. Although the airline had announced two weeks ago that it planned the increase, the extra flights had not begun.
Upon learning that, commissioners of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority canceled their decision to fine the airline up to $12,000 per day from Feb. 1, the day the disputed flights were supposed to begin.
30-Day Notice Required
Commissioners said AirCal had failed to comply with an airport regulation requiring that airlines give the airport a 30-day notice of any change in flight schedules and obtain authority approval of the type of aircraft to be used.
In voting unanimously for the stiff penalties, commissioners said they were trying to deter other airlines from increasing the use of noisier jetliners.
"It is time we draw the line and regain our rule-making authority," Commissioner William B. Rudell said.
But by late Monday, AirCal officials said they had changed plans.
They said there would be no increase in the use of the controversial Boeing 737-200 aircraft, which the airport authority limits to four flights daily.
The 737-200 has attracted attention because it is noisier than the McDonnell-Douglas DC-9-80s that are used for all other AirCal flights at Burbank.
AirCal officials said they had changed their plans before being informed of the fines. Frantz Lipsey, AirCal vice president of corporate services, said the airport authority did not know about the change because of "total confusion" and a lack of communication between the airport and airline officials.
He said AirCal believed it was entitled to increase the number of flights by the noisier jet because it is reducing its total number of flights at Burbank from 114 to 80 per week.
Lipsey said plans to use the noisier jet on 53 flights a week--up from 27--were dropped last week, and "we were totally unaware of the action to be taken" by the commission.
Newer, Quieter Jet
Airport officials said Monday that they had not been told of any change in plans by AirCal and had checked with the airline as late as Friday.
Lipsey said DC-9-80s will be used at the airport until they are phased out by a newer Boeing jet, the 737-300, which is quieter than the 737-200 and the DC-9-80. The airline received its first 737-300 Friday and expects to put it into service at Burbank, airport spokesman Victor Gill said.
Gill said two other airlines--America West and Western--will begin using the new 737-300 this spring.
A federal judge in Los Angeles in October granted AirCal a preliminary injunction to begin using the 737-200 model at Burbank after similar permission was granted by courts to two other airlines.
Older Jets Cheaper to Fly
At that time, airport officials warned that other airlines might begin using older, noisier jetliners because they are less expensive to operate than newer, federally certified "Stage 3" aircraft such as the DC-9-80 and 737-300.
In the wake of the court ruling, the airport authority told AirCal it could use the 737-200 on four daily flights.
Commissioner Rudell accused AirCal of adopting "a very cavalier attitude" toward rules on changing such limits. He blamed action by the courts for "what is perceived to be a gradual erosion of our noise-abatement rules."
Private Craft Fined
Burbank Airport noise abatement rules permit the airport to fine offenders up to $1,000 for each violation. Fines have been levied against private or chartered aircraft, often for violating a night noise curfew or making too much noise, but no fines have been levied against commercial carriers.
Burd Miller, chief of southern airport transportation for the state Division of Aeronautics, said he knows of no airport that has imposed daily fines on commercial airlines for noise violations. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington said such action--as opposed to filing suit against a carrier and asking financial damages--would be unprecedented.
James P. Muldoon, noise abatement officer for the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, which operates Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark airports, said those airports enforce their regulations through the courts. "We do not rely on police powers and fines to force airlines to comply with our rules," he said.