Two airlines threatened with a ban on late-night flights at Long Beach Airport have violated noise standards nearly twice as many times during the past six months as city officials originally reported, according to documents released this week to the City Council.
But airport officials contend those records, compiled by airport staff in a three-ring, loose-leaf binder, are preliminary investigation reports that are inaccurate and unreliable.
The documents show that the two airlines, Jet America and PSA, broke noise standards 36 times during a six-month period beginning in August, 1984. City airport officials had reported to the City Council in January that the two airlines combined for 19 violations.
In addition, three small air operators had 25 more violations than originally reported by airport officials. In the January report, officials said American Eagle Aviation, Dynamic Air and Piper Air Center had 13 total violations.
Based on the lower figures originally supplied by airport officials, the council considered restricting PSA and Jet America from using the airport between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m., but put off the decision for two months after several council members voiced fears that a ban would only prompt a legal fight with the airlines. The matter is set to go before the council again next week.
Councilman Edd Tuttle, a longtime critic of airport noise, said the records indicate the city's airport managers are taking a lax stance on noise violators.
"It appears the information the council has been receiving has not been accurate," Tuttle said in an interview Tuesday. "The benefactor of that inaccuracy has been the airlines. I don't know if it's been incompetence or cronyism that have caused it, but it's one or the other."
City Manager John Dever denied his administration has played favorites, arguing that airport officials have been tough on airlines that violate noise standards.
"No one is trying to be easy on the airlines," Dever said. "We're just trying to enforce the law and be fair. If you don't think we're tough, just talk to the airlines. They'll tell you we're the toughest in the country."
Dever said many of the alleged violations recorded in the logbook were dropped after further investigation showed that an airline was not guilty of breaking noise standards or the city lacked sufficient evidence to support a citation.
'Not Accurate Records'
"That's just the investigator's notebook," Dever said. "They're not accurate records. It's only something to be used as the basis to follow up with an investigation. There's a good bit of information beyond that."
The records of noise violations are recorded at the airport on sophisticated detection devices that record plane noise by decibel levels.
Several council members supported Dever's view in interviews Wednesday.
"The aura is being created as if management is playing favorites with the airlines, and they're not," Councilman Thomas Clark said. "I don't think anyone can say that these airlines are getting favorable treatment. We have one of the toughest noise ordinances on the books and we're frequently in court defending it."
Councilwoman Eunice Sato said she felt Tuttle was making too much of the data.
"It's a big to-do about nothing," Sato said. "The problems have been brought to our attention. The airlines are starting to comply, so why go further?"
Tuttle said he learned about the existence of the noise data from Jeffery Pappas, who had been temporarily employed as a airport noise control specialist. According to Tuttle, Pappas has said that airport officials told him to ignore as many as 15 noise violations.
Pappas could not be reached for comment and airport officials have denied the allegations to the council.
Last week, Tuttle asked Dever for a copy of the logbook, but the city manager refused to release the document. City Atty. Robert Parkin said the data was part of an ongoing investigation process and therefore exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act unless the entire council ordered it. On Tuesday, Tuttle got the City Council to approve the release of the document.
According to those records, Jet America violated airport noise standards on 23 occasions, while PSA had 13 violations. Airport managers originally reported that Jet America had 14 violations and PSA had 5. Most of the violations for both airlines occurred late at night, when the airport's noise standards are tougher.
Although neither airline has flights scheduled to depart or arrive at the airport after 10 p.m., problems with air traffic or weather can delay the arrival of jets until after 10:30 p.m., when the stricter nighttime noise standard takes effect. Since the January meeting, PSA and Jet America have adjusted their schedules so flights that are delayed will have a greater buffer before 10:30 p.m. The nighttime standard ends at 7 a.m.
Under the city's noise control ordinance, air operators can be fined $300 for each incident or "excluded from further operations at the airport" after a third recorded violation. City officials said they proposed the ban on night flights as a preliminary measure against the airlines. In addition, PSA and Jet America paid fines of $1,500 and $3,700 respectively.
Airport manager Chris Kunze refused to comment on the documents released Tuesday. But in a March 11 letter that accompanied the airport data, Kunze said that some of the alleged violations were ignored because they came during a 10-day grace period that follows an airline's first or second violation.
Under that system, a violation would not be counted if it occurs within the two 10-day grace periods. Thus, if an airline violated the noise standard on Jan. 1, and daily through Jan. 23, it would accumulate only three violations because of the grace periods which would begin on Jan. 1 and Jan. 12.
That grace period was included in the noise ordinance to give an air operator the chance to correct mechanical problems or respond to an alleged violation, according to Dever. Kunze said "very few" violations have occurred during the grace periods.
"The only period that I am aware of where several occurred in this manner was during the Christmas holidays, where two of the airlines had multiple violations on the same days," Kunze said in the letter.
From Dec. 14 through Jan. 29, Jet America violated airport noise standards 14 times while PSA had eight violations, according to the investigation logbook. Three of PSA's violations occurred during the two weeks that followed the council's meeting to discuss sanctions against the airlines.