A federal judge has ordered a prompt eight-flight increase in daily airline service at Long Beach Airport, a ruling city attorneys say they will attempt to block on appeal.
U.S. District Judge Laughlin E. Waters, who increased local airline flights from 15 to 18 three years ago, ordered a jump to 26 this time. He also directed the City Council to submit by Nov. 7 a plan for allocating the new flights to various airlines.
"The record clearly shows that new flight activity at the airport is justified. . . . Any further delay in this matter is unreasonable," Waters wrote in an opinion released Friday.
Using the same language as in a Sept. 8 ruling from the bench, the judge also said he has "serious questions" about the legality of the city's new airport noise ordinance and refused, at least temporarily, to allow its implementation.
Final Ruling Due Next Year
A final ruling on the new ordinance and on how many flights Long Beach may ultimately have is not expected until early next year, when the Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to submit its analysis of the ordinance.
The number of airline flights at Long Beach Airport has been under Waters' control since 1983, when airlines sued for greater airport access. The judge found the city's previous noise ordinance to be arbitrary, ruling that it was not supported by sufficient technical data.
Following a two-year study by a city task force, the City Council adopted in July an ordinance based on the new data. Though the new ordinance allows fewer flights than the task force recommended, the council said it takes into account both the effects of airport noise on nearby homeowners and legal pressure by airlines and the federal government to increase flights to at least 40.
The ordinance would allow airline flights to increase slowly from 18 to 32, but only if average aircraft noise is lowered and then kept within state-endorsed levels for adjacent residential areas.
City Officials Angered
Waters' latest ruling angered city officials, who said they plan a series of legal responses aimed at stopping the new flights until the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals can decide the city's case.
"I think this ruling is very unfair and doesn't take into consideration the residents of this city," said Mayor Ernie Kell. "Now we'll just have to see what the higher courts have to say."
Lee L. Blackman, the city's lawyer for airport matters, said he plans to argue on appeal that no statute requires a specific level of airline service at airports.
Federal law requires only that flights be allocated equitably within a reasonable noise standard, such as the state-endorsed levels adopted by the city in its ordinance, Blackman said.
While appealing, the city may pass another law that would implement aspects of its new ordinance that do not affect jetliners--such as larger fines for noisy private jets and tighter restrictions on the hours private planes may operate, officials said.
The City Council has also ordered its attorneys to prepare a lawsuit against the airlines and the FAA, which council members say have forced too many flights on Long Beach and prompted hundreds of damage suits against the city by homeowners.
"The airlines and the FAA have brought about a federal court order that makes it impossible for the (airport) to be within the state noise standard," said Councilman Edd Tuttle. "Therefore, they're going to have to pick up the tab for that."
Waters' opinion noted the "formidable job" of the City Council in balancing competing interests--residents' property values, airlines' investments and needs of the national transportation system for greater access to the Los Angeles Basin.
He found, however, that "the record raises serious questions as to the reasonableness and fairness of the city's program to limit growth at Long Beach Airport.
"These questions are amplified," the judge added, "by the city's failure to formulate a plan for improvement of airport facilities after almost two years of studying the airport access problem."
Kell said he found that portion of the ruling particularly bothersome.
"We're not going to increase the capacity of the terminal on the assumption that maybe we're going to have to add more flights. That defies all business sense," he said.
Waters pointed out that "even the city concedes" in its new ordinance that 32 flights may be accommodated within state noise levels. He also noted that the council did not follow the 41-flight recommendation of the city-appointed, FAA-funded task force.
Blackman said the council rejected the 41-flight maximum, which would have required the shifting of private jets from the airport's main runway to a shorter one alongside the San Diego Freeway, because it did not want to decrease noise on one side of the airport by increasing it on another.
Use of Quieter Aircraft