A city task force has recommended a plan it says could reduce overall aircraft noise at Long Beach Airport while more than doubling daily commercial flights to 41.
The proposal, called a "carefully crafted compromise" by one supporter, uses the additional flights as a lure to get airlines to switch to quieter jets and flight procedures.
Eighteen flights are permitted at the airport each day, but the 19-member task force voted 14 to 5 last week to recommend that the City Council plan phased increases.
Under the proposal, which still must go to the council and the Federal Aviation Administration for review, daily commercial flights would first increase to 26. (A flight is one arrival and departure of an aircraft.)
Tighter restrictions on aircraft noise also would go into effect. By doing that, task force members say, residents near the airport would be subjected to less total noise each day than they are now, despite the increase in flights.
There also would be a six-month review using noise-monitoring equipment. If the airlines were able to able to stay within the limit for cumulative noise, the number of flights would be raised to 33. And if the noise were within limits after yet another six-month study, the total could be raised to 41.
"I think what we have is a carefully crafted compromise that puts a lot of teeth in the proposed plan," said task force member Jon Regnier, an associate vice president of fiscal planning at Cal State Long Beach. "It makes the airlines prove to the community that they can fly quietly before additional flights are allowed."
Task force members maintain that the plan would force the airlines to use quieter aircraft and noise-abatement techniques at the airport.
Those techniques involve reducing thrust immediately after takeoff and descending steeply on approach so that aircraft are at a high altitude when over residential areas.
"Those guys are going to have to fly perfect," Regnier said. "The monkey's on their back to produce if they want more flights."
Lack of Incentives Cited
Nonetheless, one airline official suggested that the proposal falls short because it does not provide incentives for the airlines to fly as quiet as they can.
Dennis O'Dell, a vice president and associate general counsel for Pacific Southwest Airlines, said the proposal lumps together all Stage-3 aircraft, even though some of those new-generation jets are much quieter than others.
For example, O'Dell said, when PSA flys the British Aerospace BAe 146 out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, the plane routinely records noise levels more than 10 decibels lower than the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, another Stage-3 aircraft. To the human ear, the MD-80 sounds twice as loud as the BAe 146, O'Dell said.
Despite that difference, both planes would be treated the same under the task force's proposal, O'Dell said.
"From PSA's perspective, this is not a particularly good compromise because we have an incredibly quiet airplane (the BAe 146) that could be a benefit to the community, but the way it appears the program is structured, there is no incentive for us to bring that quiet airplane to Long Beach," O'Dell said.
Fewer Flights Possible
Some task force members questioned how an increase in flights could result in an actual decrease in the overall level of jet noise. But Regnier noted that the proposal could work against the airlines if they were not able to fly quietly.
"If their performance does not prove that they can fly quieter, the number of flights may in fact be adjusted downward," he said.
Most task force members, meanwhile, seemed to regard the proposal as a step forward.
"I think we're definitely making progress, especially as far as the airlines," said Betty Hunt, a task force member and representative of Airflite Inc., an airplane dealership. "I do think there will be less overall noise for the community."
The task force was appointed by the City Council about 20 months ago and has held 40 meetings since in an effort to find solutions to the city's longtime problem with aircraft noise.
Although the council approved a daily 15-flight limit for commercial jets in 1981, that limit later was challenged by three airlines and resulted in a judge ordering the ceiling raised to 18 flights a day.
Troubled by the continued furor, the FAA and city agreed to an in-depth study. The task force--made up of residents in areas affected by airport noise, airline officials, representatives of schools and airport businesses--was formed to conduct the study.
Karen Hoy, a real estate agent who is the task force chairwoman, said she expects the group to complete its deliberations early next month, perhaps at its Jan. 8 meeting. After that, several public meetings will be held, and then the group's recommendations will go to the City Council and FAA for review and possible adoption.
Earlier this month, the task force came under fire from an FAA official who complained that the the group was moving too slowly. Edward Faberman, FAA deputy chief counsel, said in a Dec. 6 letter to City Manager John Dever that "it is clear" from an analysis by a city consultant to the task force that the airport could accommodate up to 80 flights a day.
Besides approving the principal plan to reduce aircraft noise, the task force took other steps last week.
Among them, the group agreed to recommend that the airport's noise-monitoring system be moved nearer to each end of the airport's main runway to thwart efforts by pilots to skirt noise regulations.
The noise monitoring equipment is now about a mile from each end of the runway. According to Regnier, a pilot can cut back on thrust while over the equipment or turn sharply to avoid the devices. By placing the devices near each end of the runway, it would be difficult for a pilot to avoid the system, he said.
The task force also agreed to establish a decibel limit for aircraft departures and landings.