BUSINESS

Southwest Airlines could begin flights out of Long Beach Airport

With room to grow, Long Beach Airport has offered Southwest Airlines an opportunity to begin operations later this year, starting with four daily flights.

Long Beach Airport, one of the region's smallest commercial airports, also offered JetBlue Airways three daily slots and Delta Air Lines two slots, according to city officials. JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines already fly out of Long Beach but Southwest does not.

Southwest, which serves four other airports in Southern California, had requested nine daily slots at Long Beach. An airline official said the Dallas-based carrier could begin operations with only four slots, with the hope of adding more flights in the future.

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The flight slots became available when recent noise studies confirmed that Long Beach Airport could add nine daily flights without violating the city's strict noise ordinance.

The airport handled about 2.5 million passengers in 2015, a 10% drop from 2014. By comparison, Los Angeles International Airport served nearly 75 million passengers last year, a 6% increase from 2014.

Another reason that airport noise has dropped is that most U.S. carriers have invested heavily in newer, quieter jets. Southwest, for example, has ordered 191 737 MAX jets from Boeing, a modern plane described by Boeing as having a 40% smaller "noise footprint" than older planes. (A noise footprint is the area on the ground where noise from a particular aircraft can be heard.)

Southwest will begin to take delivery of the MAX jets next year.

"They are quieter than they've ever been, and the trend will continue," said Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest.

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Gary Kelly, Southwest's chairman, president and chief executive, announced the carrier's application to serve Long Beach at a gathering of Southwest employees in Las Vegas on Wednesday. He noted that Southwest already serves four other airports in the region: LAX, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, John Wayne Airport near Santa Ana and Ontario International Airport.

"No one can offer California what we do on a daily basis, especially with the attractive addition of our low-fare service at Long Beach," he told the workers.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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