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USAir Fined $1,000 for Late Takeoff : Airport: Reprimand for curfew violation at Lindbergh Field is more than just a slap on the wrist, the Port District emphasizes.

October 11, 1989|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The director of the San Diego Unified Port District levied a $1,000 fine against USAir on Tuesday for "willfully violating" a curfew aimed at giving residents near Lindbergh Field relief from the roar of late-night and early-morning flights.

USAir, which last year took over the San Diego-based operations of Pacific Southwest Airlines, becomes the first airline reprimanded by the Port District since stiff anti-noise regulations were enacted in April.

The 11:30 p.m.-6:30 a.m. curfew has been in effect since 1976, but the Board of Port Commissioners only voted at the meeting in April to invoke "civil penalties" against any airline that, in Port Director Don Nay's words, "broke the rules."

For those who might scoff at the size of the fine, Dan Wilkins, a spokesman for the Port District, said: "The issue is not the money, but compliance of regulations. The board adopted these rules and is making sure the airlines comply."

Second Violation, $3,000 Fine

Wilkins said a second violation in one three-month period would bring a fine of $3,000, and a third violation would warrant a $5,000 penalty followed by a review of the airline's "privilege" to operate at Lindbergh.

"We're serious about that," Wilkins said. "We will, at that point, very seriously review the airline's entire operation at Lindbergh Field. These airlines have to realize that flying into and out of San Diego is not a right, it's a privilege that we allow."

Sid McSwain, a resident of South Mission Hills, who, until recently, served on the port's noise advisory committee, called Tuesday's fine "a minor victory" for homeowners bothered by the comings and goings of flights at Lindbergh.

"I'm pleased to hear it," McSwain said. "Apparently, the airline did it with full knowledge that a violation was being committed. They blatantly ignored the rules, so I'm pleased that the Port--finally--is getting tough. I'd say it's about time."

Larry Pickett, a spokesman for USAir, said last week that on the day the violation occurred--Aug. 4--the company had just merged with Piedmont Airlines and was trying to integrate a "difficult" new schedule of flights.

He conceded that USAir Flight 620 left San Diego at 11:57 p.m.--27 minutes after the curfew--bound for Pittsburgh. As a way of illustrating the delays caused by the merger with Piedmont, Pickett said the flight was scheduled to leave at 10:50 p.m.

He added that such restrictions are not new to USAir, that, indeed, many of the airports it uses in California carry penalties for curfew violations. He said that the San Diego penalty was the first the airline had incurred.

On Tuesday, Pickett was unavailable for comment. Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for the airline, said: "We have no comment--none. We won't get into it."

Wilkins said that Nay received a letter from USAir on Friday, "not contesting the violation" but "not offering a reason," either, for why it occurred.

"With all the facts before us, we considered it a willful violation," Wilkins said. "Shortly after the new regulations took effect, a few airlines had departures that left a few minutes late, and we wrote them strong letters. The word got out very quickly that we meant business. We don't want to beat the drum too hard, but we do want the rules obeyed."

In 1987, the Board of Port Commissioners supplemented the curfew by restricting the type of aircraft used between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Only the quieter Stage 3 aircraft, such as the Boeing 737-300, are allowed to take off or land during those hours. The USAir flight guilty of the curfew violation was a Stage 3 aircraft.

'Have to Go Elsewhere'

At the 1987 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners, Alan B. Wayne, a spokesman for United Airlines, predicted that airlines would "turn away from San Diego in increasing numbers" if noise restrictions continue. Wayne said the "phenomenal growth (of San Diego) will make no difference. We'll have to go elsewhere."

"This is just another chink in the national air transportation system," he added. "We were backed in our opposition to this by the U.S. Postal Service, the (San Diego) Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitors Bureau. This considerably narrows San Diego's attractiveness as an aviation market."

Asked about airline concerns, and whether Tuesday's fine was a victory for anti-noise forces in the continuing furor over the airport, Wilkins said: "It isn't a matter of winning or losing, and you'll have to ask the airlines about their intentions. We have rules, and it's our job to enforce them. It's as simple as that."

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