LB City Hall Says 3 Million Passengers Per Yr. At LB Airport Possible (Nearly Five Times Level Handled in 2000)
City staff says could be done within current LB noise and flight limits
Analysis and perspective
(May 8, 2001) -- LB city officialdom has publicly asserted, and not objected to recent assertions by others, that LB Airport could handle three million passengers per year -- nearly five times the number it handled in 2000 -- within LB's Airport noise and flight limits of 41 commercial flights and 25 commuter flights per day.
The 3 million passenger figure City Hall accepts as possible assumes the maximum allowed 41 commercial flights per day in addition to all (or nearly all) of the maximum allowed 25 commuter flights per day, and further assumes the flights will carry load factors (percentage of seats filled) of roughly 70% or more, which some say approaches industry trends.
LB city staff has openly stated the 3 million figure on several occasions and it recently appeared in USA Today without provoking any perceptible public objection by Councilmembers.
This comes on the heels of a regional government body adopting the 3 million passenger figure without opposition by LB City Hall.
On April 12, as previously reported on LBReport.com), the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) adopted a regional transportation plan that includes the assumption LB Airport could handle 3 million pasengers per year by 2025. One of LB's SCAG reps, Councilman Ray Grabinski, voted to recommend the regional airport plan containing the figure for approval by SCAG's full voting membership. When the full SCAG vote came, Grabinski and LB's other SCAG rep, Councilman Rob Webb, failed to attend the meeting. (Details at: SCAG April, 2001 vote)
On April 17, USA Today carried a "Cover Story" asserting LB Airport could handle 3 million annual passengers...and it didn't indicate "by 2025."
City Hall's Airport Manager Chris Kunze confirmed to LBReport.com that he provided the 3 million figure and City Hall's basis for it. [Note: The USA Today reporter developed the national airport story independently of LB City Hall or LB Airport.] The story portrayed LB Airport as among the country's most "underserved" metropolitan airports and quoted Mr. Kunze as indicating that within LB's existing noise rules, the City markets the Airport aggressively.
Two days after the article appeared, Mr. Kunze told City Hall's appointed Airport Advisory Commission that one air carrier had already approached LB Airport in response to the USA Today article.
On March 15, following LBReport.com's account of Mr. Grabinski's March SCAG Committee vote (to our knowledge the only LB media account of the event), Mr. Kunze gave the Commission an extemporaneous explanation of the 3 million figure, calling it consistent with LB's current maximum allowed 41 commercial flights and 25 commuter flights.
Transcript excerpts follow:
...One issue that has gotten some press here is the 3 million annual passengers for Long Beach, whether that's an expansion or not. It really isn't. That's just a forecast based on the adopted, currently in place [LB] noise rules that allow the 41 airline flights and 25 commuter flights, which may be the regional jet type of aircraft.
Part of the very, very best case for us in terms of how many passengers that means would be an assumption of a fleet mix that has some 757s, some MD-80s, 737s, 300 (inaudible) 900s, and a very high load factor such as 75%. And those were some of the assumptions used by SCAG in order to arrive at roughly 3 million annual passengers.
But, I mean, If you're really interested in a seeing a detailed work up of that. it's just a planning exercise basically. But it presumes all the existing rules stay in place. [intervening inaudible Commission colloquy]
...When we had 41 flights in the late 1980s, the load factors were very poor, below 50%. So if you assume that same (inaudible) had a 75% load factor, that could add probably, bring us up to over 2 million annual passengers.
It also had a pretty restricted fleet at the time. If we had more of the current fleet of quieter airplanes like the 757s with higher capacity, that would also probably jack it up to 2.3 or 2.5 million.
Then if you assume that the commuter flights were flown by 25 RJ [we assume "regional jet"] flights (inaudible) capacity at 65-70%, and that could get you (inaudible).
We can show you a workup of that if you're interested but it's all conjecture. Basically it's just a lot is going to depend on what airlines we get and what their fleet mix is and whether or not we can attract RJ's on that basis.
We'll never do well here with an old commuter concept of feeding a hub like LAX (inaudible) but if we do attract the regional jets it will be in point to point service, such as say Sacramento for example.
And whether the industry goes in that direction, that remains to be seen. So it could be 2 million passengers, it could be 3 million. The outside, I think the best we probably could ever expect would be about 3.
At the April Airport Advisory Commission meeting, in response to a question posed during the public comment period on behalf of LBReport.com, Mr. Kunze said airport area street widenings, new parking structures and new airport area hotels are also consistent with LB's flight and noise limits (transcript excerpts below):
...There are specific references to facilities, for example, during the 1980s, when we were in litigation with the airlines. We as a city were trying to gain control of our airport. We had lost control of our destiny. We were at the whim if you will of a central district court and a federal appellate court.
The facilities currently at the Long Beach Airport, in terms of terminal facilities, the parking structure, the [inaudible] at the baggage claim, were designed for 15 flights a day. Those were put in the ealry 1980s right after the city adopted its first noise compatibility ordinance. It provided for 15 flights a day.
The design criteria was 15 MD-80 size aircraft, that's how we sized everything including the peak hour assumption of three concurrent MD-80s. As we grew during the '80s because of the federal court mandate, it was not in our best interests to expand our facilities because we were fighting all of that [inaudible]...
So our facilities are still designed for 15 daily flights at peak hour use of 3 MD-80s. We know from our experience during that time that it was horribly congested, those of you who might of used the airport those times, you can remember the long lines that went all the way out into the street to get through the security screening.
We have now a business plan that says that we'll live within our existing rules, that we're going to maintain the convenience and low cost of our airport. The only way we controlled the demand for parking here at times was through economics, the price elasticity of demand. We raised the rates until the demand went down.
We ended up with, luckily, adequate parking even when we were at 41 flights. We could do the same thing now, we could charge $24 a day or triple area parking and adequate facilities. That's not in our business plan. We don't see that in the city's Strategic Plan and they are requiring just the opposite as a matter of fact.
That's why we're looking at comfortable accommodating the 41 flights. During 1991 [said 1941, misspeak], there no commuter flights at the airport, I think for a short time there were a couple of true commuters that went to LAX, it didn't last very long. Up to 25 [daily flights], that is all capacity that could be implemented at the Airport now that the [inaudible] are getting and more active in the U.S. airlines fleet.
So our forecast assumes that especially if we're looking at 10, 15, 20 years out in our forecast period, that we will have a regional jet activity that qualifies as under 75,000 pounds under our ordinance [which could fit in the 25 commuter flight slots].
Also, you look at the load factors [percentage of seats filled] and the aircraft types back during the 1980s. The average load factors were in the low 50%. Right now, the industry load factors are in the high 60%. And again, we have to design especially, certain facilities like parking, not for averages but for our peak use. For example, during vacation periods, and as such, there are some days at any airport where load factors are virtually 100%, that's how you come up to averages of 70% or 75% range.
So these are all factors that we're taking into account, given that we do want to accommodate traffic that we're allowed to do under our existing noise ordinance and pursuant to the City's Adopted 2010 "Strategic Plan" we're to actively and aggressively market and gain commerce and air transportation (inaudible) so that's what we're doing.
Everything that's being proposed right now in terms of terminal area improvements are already funded with federal grants or will be in terms of the common public use area; in terms of the parking structure, that will be funded by a developer for the hotel. Whether the hotel is the highest and best use, we believe it is based on the demand for hotels rooms in the city.
Also, that will front the cost that will be paid from the Airport Enterprise Fund, not the General Purpose [Fund] cost involved.
[Re Lakewood Blvd. improvements]...those are being financed by the Airport Area Traffic Assessment District. The Airport is a small part of that and within that part that we're responsible for only about half of that relates to airline related flights, so with or without the airline flights, there has been a need for many years for the Lakewood Blvd, Spring Street, Willow intersection, all the way up to Carson, all of those improvements, so it doesn't relate specifically to the airline flights with a very small exception.
[In conclusion]...These [SCAG 3 million annual passenger] forecasts, there's nothing magical about them, we may end up at 1.5 or 2 million, we don't know. But when you're sizing facilities, especially parking structures, and we're looking at a marketplace that's changed a lot now from what it was 15 years ago, we believe it's very reasonably likely that we could successfully market those 41 flights, and at least a good portion of the  commuter flights, we believe that unless there's major changes in the economy, that airlines will do well out of Long Beach, especially if we continue to charge low fares to the airlines and end users.
So for us it's a rational approach to take, to try to design those facilities for the higher end of the potential range, but it is a planning process. We don't guarantee that we're going to have 41 flights with 70% load factors. We might end up with 30 [flights] and 55% load factors (inaudible) and there's a risk involved in that...
We interpret the following based on Mr. Kunze's statements:
A level of 3 million passengers on 41 daily commercial + 25 commuter flights is admittedly based on assumptions that may never come to pass. If actual passengers turn out to be lower, the 3 million passenger figure could haunt LB by inviting pressure to fill that supposed capacity by increasing the number of daily flights.
3 million annual passengers would be unprecedented at LB Airport even if LB's noise and flight ordinance remains the same. The ancillary quality of life impacts are difficult to quantify at present. Diesel truck traffic could increase as Airport busineses and hotels need more supplies. Bus and car traffic could increase. To the extent LB Airport would be used to funnel passengers downtown to conventions and hotels, crosstown LB city streets or the 405/710 freeway route would be impacted.
Last year, the Council voted its approval of a non-binding "Strategic Plan" that included among its goals and strategic actions, "Expand Long Beach Airport business opportunities, but only within existing noise compatibility ordinances." It adds the City should "take a leadership role" with SCAG "and other entities in addressing future airport capacity needs of the region while maintaining noise compatibility and other environmental limits" at LB Airport.
The "Strategic Plan's" goals are in a section titled, "Create a Balance Between Business Growth and Neighborhood Needs."
For the record, LB City Hall has not to our knowledge publicly suggested weakening the city's current noise and flight limits. It has said the opposite publicly, albeit in ways that are not legally binding and could theoretically be weakened by a future City Council vote.
A mechanism giving homeowners and taxpayers protection would require a carefully drafted ballot measure and a vote of the people.