(Oct. 22, 2005) -- A 727 chartered jet, unable to take off from LAX because of President Bush's L.A. visit, instead took off from LB Airport shortly before midnight Oct. 20-21 using shorter runway 25R -- nearly a three quarters of a mile shorter than main runway 30 -- because FAA maintenance work had closed main runway 30 overnight.
The result was a resident-rattling takeoff that one incensed Cal Hts. homeowner -- an FAA certificated pilot -- estimates cleared rooftops near Cherry Ave. by roughly a few hundred feet.
Based on data from LB Airport's recently launched "WebTrak" system, Larry Mebust, a pilot (not large jets) with over 17,000 hours of incident free flying experience, estimates the jet aircraft was likely roughly 400 feet above homes just west of Cherry Ave...and likely lower over businesses to the east.
LB Airport's "WebTrak" system indicates the aircraft's altitude was "zero" in its first two readings as it cleared Cherry Ave. and headed west; the third reading occurs when the plane's computer icon reaches two blocks west of Orange Ave. -- more than a mile from the end of runway 25R -- at an altitude of 869 feet.
WebTrak doesn't indicate exactly when the pilot began his ascent, but Mr. Mebust says because takeoffs are not linear (not constant, starting slowly, then increasing), he concludes that halfway between Orange Ave. and the end of 25R, the aircraft's altitude was less than half that at Orange Ave., thus estimating an altitude of roughly 400 feet near Cherry Ave.
Under "Reliability of Radar Information," LGB's WebTrak indicates the system uses LB's Airport Noise and Operations Monitoring System (ANOMS) and "[w]hile ANOMS processes radar data very well, at times, flight tracks may display incorrect information." Contacted by LBReport.com for additional information, LB Airport Operations Specialist/Public Affairs Ken Ashmore said an ANOMS printout with data from a rotating radar beam (scans and periodically hits the rising aircraft) indicates the aircraft was at 541 feet just west of Cherry Ave. and 945 feet just west of Orange Ave.
Mr. Mebust responds that regardless of the altitude at a particular point, the altitude near Cherry Ave. was almost certainly less than half that near Orange Ave...and in his judgment too close for comfort.
In 2003, Mr. Mebust publicly warned the City Council against the use of runway 25R for large jets, saying it effectively requires virtually flawless performance by pilot and aircraft with little room for mechanical failure or human error. In the wake of the October 20, 2005 event, Mr. Mebust reiterated his view that the shorter runway 25R was not intended for large jets and in his opinion, it is dangerous for large jet operations.
"If that 727 had failed an engine on take off, there would have been a fireball in Cal Hts," Mr. Mebust said.
Decisions on runway use are not made by LB Airport or the City Council, but by the FAA-controlled Airport tower. Runway 25R -- which sends takeoffs basically over 36th St. in Cal Hts. -- is normally used by small private (general aviation) aircraft but is occasionally used by large jets when main runway 30 is temporarily closed due to repairs, accidents and the like.
In response to Mr. Mebust's 2003 charges, LB Airport management told the Council that runway 25R is not an unsafe operation for large aircraft, meets all federal standards, is certificated under federal air regulation part 139 as an airline alternative runway and is 491 feet longer than John Wayne Airport's main runway.
Mr. Mebust dismisses city management's response as "bureaucratic non-speak." and notes that John Wayne Airport take-offs are protected first by a freeway and then a golf course before reaching homes (and JWA's approach path is over an industrial area, not homes).
"People over here are really angry," Mr. Mebust told LBReport.com. "They just don't know who to complain to and they're all convinced the city doesn't care about them (so why complain). They consider the Airport noise 'hotline' a complete joke."
Another Cal Hts. resident, Helen Manning-Brown, emailed LBReport.com, "It is unfortunate that the Mayor, City Manager, and many Council members continue to fail to understand the negative impacts of the Airport on the City of Long Beach. Property taxes constitute the single largest source of income to the general fund, and when a 727 airplane roars out of the airport at midnight, 400 feet over our homes, shaking them to their foundations, property values are negatively affected."
Mr. Mebust added, "This is about being jerked out of bed by a noise so loud that it is at first not even identifiable... just frighteningly loud. You really have to experience the adrenaline rush created by being awakened this way. It takes a couple of hours to settle down because the adrenaline triggers a (normal) 'flight or fight' response and you end up shaking. Anyone making that level of noise on the street at any time day or night would be arrested for disturbing the peace under Penal Code Section 415."
In his 2003 Council presentation, Mr. Mebust estimated some 25R jet flights were at roughly 500 feet above homes but didn't have data to prove it. He says the most recent data back up his prior estimates.
Airport management and LGB's regularly scheduled carriers have taken measures to minimize large jet use of 25R when possible, citing sensitivity to residents, not safety. During last year's main runway resurfacing, the Airport and its regularly scheduled carriers cooperatively developed a schedule that minimized periods when large jets were diverted onto 25R.
Mr. Mebust challenged the City Council to hold its next meeting on LB Airport's main runway 30, with pilots instructed to begin their ascent at about 61.9% of the main runway's length -- the length of runway 25R -- with Councilmembers seated about 1/4 mile down the runway (since homes begin roughly a 1/4 mile from the end of 25R).
"If they think that's safe, let the Council hold their meeting there and experience what their constituents face," Mr. Mebust said.
Mr. Mebust added he's sure the FAA would never allow this "which shows the insanity of directing large jet operations on 25R."