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Sun, Jun 18, 2006

Opponents Fear Supersized LGB Terminal Foreshadows Additional Flights

Smaller Field An Attractive Alternative To LAX

Frequent flyers and some Long Beach, CA, residents are at odds over expansion plans for the Long Beach Airport terminal.

The Los Angeles Times says the Long Beach City Council may vote as early as Tuesday, June 20, to accept or reject an environmental impact assessment of several airport upgrade options.

Since JetBlue Airways made Long Beach its West Coast hub in August 2001, daily commercial flights have increased from 15 to 41 -- the max allowed under the city's current noise ordinance -- and the number of passengers using the airport annually has grown six-fold to 3 million. JetBlue's low fares, and Long Beach's relatively painless passenger ingress/egress, make it an attractive alternative to nearby LAX.

The impact report details several possible proposals that would add space for passengers who now wait for flights in trailers, and enclose security screening areas that are now outdoors under patio covers. More controversially, the proposals add varying amounts of parking areas for planes and vehicles.

The largest of the proposals would nearly double the current facility to 102,850 square feet.

Although opponents of expansion are against any increase in the number of daily flights out of Long Beach, many support modest improvements to the aging facilities as long as their concerns are fully addressed.

And, the chief concern the report conspicuously ignores is whether the airport would eventually allowable additional daily flights to accommodate anticipated growth in regional air travel demand.

A 2004 Federal Aviation Administration report identified Long Beach as one of 15 airports nationwide that would need added passenger capacity by 2013.

The report's failure to address flight limits, growth opponents fear, opens the door for the FAA to overrule the city's noise ordinance down the road; an ordinance they say only caps Long Beach's flights by noise, not actual number of flights.

Other opponents said Long Beach was already the nation's second-most polluted city, and that the report failed to consider the cumulative impacts of additional air traffic and automobile congestion on childhood asthma rates and noise disruptions to area schools.

"We all want... an airport we're proud of," Long Beach resident and Chapman University law professor John Eastman said at the city council's June 13 meeting. "So modernize that thing, don't supersize it. Let's have an airport we can all live with."

Even if the council agrees that the report sufficiently addresses potential effects of airport expansion, it still would have to approve an actual plan and figure out how to pay for improvements whose minimum price tag is estimated at $158 million.

FMI: www.jetblue.com, www.ci.long-beach.ca.us/, www.longbeach.gov/airport/

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