Judge Allows Up to 25 Daily Commuter Flights at Long Beach Airport

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge issued an order last week that will temporarily allow up to 25 commuter flights a day at Long Beach Municipal Airport.

U. S. District Judge Laughlin Waters issued a preliminary injunction that directs Long Beach city officials to divvy up flights among commuter airlines that want to operate at the airport. At present, there are no commercial commuter fixed-wing aircraft flights, attorneys said.

The court action stems from a suit filed against the city by Long Beach-based Quest Air, a new commuter line that wants to operate out of the airport.

Quest Air objected to the city's demand that it not start operations until a separate lawsuit brought by several major air carriers is resolved. Trial in that case is scheduled for March.

The injunction could nearly double the number of commercial flights at the airport. Under another injunction, Waters had previously limited commercial airlines to 26 flights a day.

"We're pleased with the decision," Quest Air attorney Roger S. Greene said. "I think what the judge recognized was that the City of Long Beach was enforcing an ordinance such that general aviation aircraft were granted unlimited and unrestricted access (to the airport). The fact was, the Quest aircraft is a lot quieter than a lot of those general aviation aircraft."

The prospect of the additional flights, however, irks Long Beach City Council members who are active on the airport noise issue.

"I think it is ridiculous for a judge to be running the Long Beach airport," said Councilman Warren Harwood, whose 9th District lies in the takeoff path. "I think that when one of these planes plants itself in somebody's roof, the federal judge ought to be called to clean up the debris and notify the next of kin."

Mayor Ernie Kell, whose 5th District includes the airport, said he also is opposed to any new flights at the airport. "I think we need to control the noise problem."

Deputy City Atty. Roger Freeman, who is handling the case for the city, said he considers the outcome a mixed blessing.

While the city did not prevail in stopping commuter airlines entirely, he said the planes are not as loud as full-size jetliners.

"They are not . . . distinguishable in their noise characteristics from a lot of (private) general-aviation airplanes operating now. People probably wouldn't notice the difference," he said.

Steve Lay, 43, president of Quest Commuter Co., said he wants a chance to prove to residents that the West German-made Dornier 228, a twin-prop 19-passenger airplane, is among the quietest in sky.

"I think once they see it, hear it and experience it, I think they'll see we've gone out of our way to be good neighbors," Lay said. "(If) people have confidence we are sincere, then they are going to use us."

He said the plane was certified for low noise in tests by the city. With the ruling, Lay said he hopes to start service between Feb. 15 and March 1 with five flights a day to San Diego. Later, he said, he hopes to add service to Bakersfield and Oxnard.

Wants to Make Peace

A former vice president for now-defunct Western Airlines, Lay said he wants to make peace with city officials. "We're willing to work with the city fathers. We spent a great deal of time trying to get them to understand our story."

He said he met with Harwood and Kell at a Harwood fund-raising event. Neither councilman said they remember talking with Lay.

In appearing before Waters, Quest Air had asked that it exclusively be granted 25 flights a day. Instead, Waters granted the figure as a total for all commuter airlines which want to start Long Beach service. Freeman said the city must return to court to present its plan for dividing the flights among Quest Air and any other commuter airlines that apply.

"We have some expressions of interest but we don't know how many are serious," he said.

The attorneys did not know how long the ruling is expected to remain in effect. Freeman said he suggested to the judge--but did not make a formal motion--that Quest Air's suit be combined with the suit being pressed by the major airlines. Greene said he would oppose such a move.

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