LONG BEACH — A federal appellate court has blocked the start of eight new daily airline flights at Long Beach Airport and set a hearing for March on a disputed lower-court order allocating the flights.
In a brief ruling last week, a two-judge U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel stopped implementation of the order by U.S. District Court Judge Laughlin E. Waters of Los Angeles to increase flights from 18 to 26.
The appellate ruling set a 35-day schedule for submission of written arguments by the City of Long Beach, which has fought an immediate increase in flights, and several airlines that have argued for such an increase since 1983.
An appeals court clerk said the scheduled hearing will be in the first week of March.
Noise Control Effort
The ruling is the most recent development in a larger case in which city officials are trying to control airport noise while airlines and federal agencies push for greater use of the airport.
Waters, who took control of airport flights in 1983 after finding the city's airport noise ordinance arbitrary, in October ordered an eight-flight increase even before trial this year on the legality of a new city noise ordinance.
Waters said airlines had waited 3 1/2 years for additional flights in Long Beach, adding that "any further delay . . . is unreasonable."
The appellate court panel did not explain its delay in implementing Waters' ruling except in citing a previous 9th Circuit case.
Lee L. Blackman, the city's lead lawyer in airport matters, said the citation indicates that the appellate judges may have thought that Waters erred in ordering new flights before the entire airport case is resolved by trial. Or, they may have thought that Waters should have redistributed existing flights, rather than ordering new ones, if he wanted to promptly allow more airlines into the airport, Blackman said.
In general, for a lower court order to be stayed on appeal, the appealing party--the city in this case--must show "that you'll probably win and you're going to be injured . . . or that you have a chance of winning and that you will be very seriously injured if there is no stay," Blackman said.
Airline lawyers said, however, that they saw the ruling as nothing more than an effort by the appeals judges to get more information about an important case before making a decision.
"Since Long Beach has contended there will be so much damage, they want to take a better look at it," said John Lyons, counsel for America West Airlines.
George Juarez, attorney for Alaska Airlines, said the ruling does not indicate Waters erred. "What this does indicate is that the 9th Circuit recognizes that this is a significant case for the rest of the country and it is taking a conservative approach on appeal," Juarez said.
Long Beach Airport and John Wayne Airport are alone in the nation in basing the number of flights allowed on airport noise, Juarez said. The Long Beach case is the only existing legal test of that criteria, he said.
"And a lot of us think this may be the case where the U.S. Supreme Court finally explains the parameters of a proprietor's control . . . ," he said.
Juarez said it also probably was clear to appellate judges that a delay of two more months in a case that began in 1983 probably would not be significant.
Airlines have said it will take 90 to 120 days to begin service after they are given new flights, he said.