Long Beach Airport's cramped 1940s-era terminal would be modernized and expanded by about 60% under a plan approved by the City Council.
The overhaul, which would include adding three gates and two aircraft parking positions, would help the airport accommodate about 4.2 million passengers annually after its anticipated completion in 2011, officials said, up from the 3 million it handles now.
JetBlue Airways, the dominant carrier at Long Beach Airport, has long wanted more comfortable and efficient facilities for its hub. But it is commuter airlines that are expected to increase their flights the most.
Many residents, however, opposed or sought to limit the expansion, fearing that it would exacerbate noise, pollution and health problems, including the high rates of asthma in the city.
The 5-3 vote Tuesday is somewhat of a compromise. It increases the terminal from the current 56,320 square feet to 89,995 square feet. But that is substantially less than the 133,000 square feet first contemplated, and cuts by about 10,000 square feet the 97,545 approved last year. About half of the new space will go toward expanding the passenger "holding rooms," the waiting areas which now are little more than trailers. Passenger security screening areas, restrooms, concession areas and administrative offices also will be expanded.
Aircraft gates will be increased by 3 to 11, with room for 12 planes on the ground, compared with 10 now. Many steps still need to be taken before construction begins, including completion of architectural designs and space allocation, final cost estimates and a financing plan. Much of the funding probably will come from increasing the $3 airport facilities fee now paid by passengers, city officials said.
JetBlue, which accounts for about 75% of the airport's commercial traffic, has 500 crew members based in Long Beach and operates 28 flights a day there, said in a statement that although it "regrets it has taken the city this long to make a decision as to the size of the terminal project, we are grateful to the City Council for making the decision on Tuesday to move forward with expansion plans.
"We view [Long Beach] as a charming and unique airport in Southern California and a wonderful alternative" to Los Angeles International, the statement said Commercial flights at the airport are now close to the 41 a day maximum allowed under a city noise ordinance. There are only a few commuter flights now, although up to 25 a day are permitted.
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said in a telephone interview that he feared making the airport too big, eroding its small-town character and convenience.
"If you oversize this airport," he said, "the question is this: Do you invite Congress or the FAA or a combination of the two to invalidate our noise ordinance and then have no way of limiting the growth?"
The city ordinance is grandfathered by federal statute, Foster said, but could be undone by an act of Congress.
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