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4 More Airlines Win Extensions to Meet Noise Cutback Rules

Times Staff Writer

Bowing to airlines’ requests for more time to comply with tough new noise-reduction standards at Lindbergh Field, the San Diego Unified Port District has granted four more airlines temporary exemptions from the rules that require them to use quieter planes here.

Saying he believes major airlines are making a good-faith effort to comply with the new guidelines, Port Director Don Nay on Thursday issued variances that will give Delta, Pan Am, United and Southwest airlines up to another year to meet regulations that went into effect Jan. 1.

Nay’s action raised to seven the number of airlines that have been granted temporary relief from the rules requiring them to use a gradually greater percentage of quieter so-called Stage III aircraft for landings and takeoffs at Lindbergh. Last month, Nay granted similar exemptions to Continental, America West and Alaska airlines.

Reasonable Compromise

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Although the port’s decision will at least briefly delay the solution to a longtime problem, even some critics described the exemptions as a reasonable compromise that provides proof of the airlines’ willingness to cooperate with concerned homeowners and the port in finding ways to reduce noise at the airport.

“I look upon this as a positive step,” said San Diego City Councilman Ron Roberts, whose district includes Point Loma, which is beneath the airport’s takeoff path. “I’m looking for a good effort to comply with the (rules) and getting away from these arguments over whether we even have the right to do something like this. It seems like we’re getting on with the game, so to speak.”

When the noise-reduction rules were adopted by the port commissioners in December, airlines complained that scheduling considerations and other practical factors would make it impossible for them to comply by Jan. 1. If the rules were stringently enforced, the airlines warned at the time, the airlines might be forced to drastically curtail or suspend service altogether at Lindbergh.

After reviewing the airlines’ applications for time extensions, Nay and the Port District’s staff determined that the economic factors and other reasons cited by the companies justified the temporary exemptions.

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“We recognized that we had adopted regulations asking people to stretch a little bit,” Nay said. “If we hadn’t done something asking people to change their ways, it wouldn’t have been worth it. They’ve all promised to comply . . . but it might take just a little longer. That seemed reasonable.”

Under the rules, the airlines are required to gradually update their older jet fleet with the new Stage III models, which are about 12 times quieter than their predecessors. As of December, slightly more than half the commercial jets using the airport were Stage III, according to port figures.

As a first step toward gradually lowering noise at the airport, the new regulations require airlines, as of Jan. 1, to begin using 10% more Stage III aircraft at Lindbergh than are used in their total domestic fleet. For example, if an airline’s fleet includes 40% Stage III jets, it would be required to use 50% of the newer, quieter planes for takeoffs and landings in San Diego.

New Rules Permit Fines

That ratio will be increased to 75% by 1993 and to 100% by 1999. The new rules also permit fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for each flight in violation of the guidelines.

In port documents dated Tuesday and released Thursday, Pan Am and Southwest received one-year exemptions from the Jan. 1 standard, and Delta was given a six-month delay. United, meanwhile, received a six-month exemption from parts of the regulations and a one-year postponement on other provisions.

The airlines could apply for additional exemptions after the current ones expire, but Nay said such applications would be “looked upon with less favor.”

Cautious Reaction

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Although pleased with the port’s cooperation, the airlines that were granted the exemptions reacted cautiously Thursday to this week’s decision, in part because they had not yet had a chance to review the documents detailing the variances.

“That sounds good . . . but until we get a chance to see the papers, we won’t know how what we got compares to what we asked for,” said Alan Wayne, regional director of public affairs for United Airlines.

In affidavits filed with the port, each of the airlines cited equipment, economic, scheduling and other factors in requesting more time to comply.

Delta, for example, provided figures showing that, as of Jan. 1, nearly 42% of its fleet consisted of Stage III jets--a statistic that would have required 52% of the aircraft to be used at Lindbergh to comply with the new rules. However, only about 21% of Delta’s local flights in January used Stage III planes.

Saying that it would be impractical to immediately make the dramatic shift needed to meet the new local standards, Delta nevertheless pledged to make scheduling changes in April that will increase the Stage III jets used here to 36% and to meet the 52% benchmark by June.

Similarly, Pan Am offered passenger volume data in asking that it be permitted to continue to operate Stage II 105-seat Boeing 737s on daily flights between San Diego and Los Angeles International Airport until Sept. 30.

36 People Per Flight

Those flights, which permit local passengers to make connections with other Pan Am national and international flights, averaged only 36 people per flight last year. Pan Am’s smallest Stage III planes, however, have 196 seats. Being forced to immediately change half its local schedule to Stage III planes, Pan Am said, could cost up to $20 million annually. Nevertheless, Pan Am pledged to use only Stage III planes at Lindbergh beginning Oct. 1.

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“No one really likes a delay, but at least we’re seeing the rhetoric being toned down and the threats to leave San Diego disappear,” Roberts said. “We’re moving forward.”

Similarly, Jerry Cluff, an attorney for the Airport Coalition, which represents residents and neighborhood civic groups disturbed by Lindbergh noise, said his organization is “more interested in the regulations working than in fault-finding.”

“To the extent that it takes a bit longer . . . we’re willing to acquiesce,” Cluff said. “But, while we’re cooperative and reasonable in these things, we’re also going to be watching closely to make sure that these rules are enforced.”


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