"Ahead of schedule and under budget.” “Southern California resort look and feel.” “Twenty minutes from the parking lot to the gate.” That’s Long Beach, CA’s new passenger concourse, which opened for operations on December 12. Though there is still plenty of work to do, the function is obvious, and the style, including some surprises, is also obvious.
Long Beach Municipal Airport (Daugherty Field; KLGB) welcomes more than 3 million commercial passengers a year through its 41 daily operations, plus a healthy amount of corporate and private traffic. Additionally, as the assembly site for Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III, the 10,003-foot main runway stays busy. In recent decades, though, LGB’s considerable charm was becoming an increasingly-solitary draw.
Located just down the coast from Los Angeles and with neighboring harbor facilities (the largest in the U.S.), Long Beach was a city in decline, as the once-considerable defense businesses (including such significant entities as the U.S. Navy) pulled out starting in the 1980s. By the mid-’90s, Long Beach looked like just another abandoned, run-down, stagnant American city.
Now six and a half years in office, Mayor Bob Foster comments, “Fifty thousand jobs left Long Beach in the 1980s; then the Navy pulled out. The city was at ‘depression level’ in the mid ‘90s.
“Except for the Riviera-like weather and incredible nearby scenery, it was running on empty.
“We have a great tourist destination here, and we know that the airport is a big part of that. We had an airport that went from cute, iconic, and comfortable ... to cute, iconic, and congested. One of our goals was to go from parking lot to gate in 20 minutes. We wanted the improved airport to be ‘big, but manageable.’ The airport is the face of the city. This was a very important project, and it turned out better than expected.”
The city was well-positioned to exploit the downturn, as Foster relates, “We don’t carry a lot of debt. One-time revenue is hardly ever used for ongoing expenses.”
The significant hub for JetBlue (JetBlue uses the term ‘Focus City’) and a destination for Delta, US Airways, and Alaska, soldiered on, its excellent military infrastructure supporting giant airplanes as well as the 737s, A320s, and 757s that make up the daily faire.
Unfortunately, LGB looked and felt old. A traveler’s review in 2010 describes the airport as “Rinky-dink, decrepit, and old; a local airport that should have been either upgraded or torn down DECADES ago.”
Could Have Gone Either Way
The do-over could have been a disaster; it nearly became one, but those in charge didn’t give up and worked on the common goal, knowing that a vibrant, convenient airport can transform a city. Long Beach, though, did not want to concentrate on only airline traffic.
First, its NIMBY-limited 41 daily ops constrained airline expansion; second, its huge capacity and long runways invited corporate use. With an in-the-fence area of 1,166 acres and easy transport over short distances to the Los Angeles area, LGB had, in addition to capacity, an ideal location.
The project needed to expand airplane-handling capacity, and early on, the decision to forego jetways was made. This was not to preserve the 1930s feel of Long Beach, but rather to allow flexibility in aircraft docking. Since the climate is dry and mild, passengers will typically have a pleasant walk to/from their planes. Stairs also allow, should airlines desire, loading through fore and aft doors, simultaneously.
Passenger convenience was paramount. Not only is LGB one of the few airports with free Wi-Fi, the airport’s planned convenience extends all the way from terminal signage to mobile apps that tell what’s going on, so that ground transportation can be updated in real time.
Early in planning, the decision was made that the original terminal could be retained and repurposed, and the new concourse would be built between the historic terminal and the runways. This not only preserved history, it meant that construction costs could be minimized as new facilities would not have to duplicate existing ones.
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