JetBlue Airways wants to add international flights – perhaps to Mexico or South America – from Long Beach Airport.
But for now, there’s a problem. Long Beach lacks an international arrivals facility staffed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Until one is built, no major international expansion can occur.
I asked airport executive director Mario Rodriguez whether Long Beach might build the facility for JetBlue. He signaled that it is possible, though he said JetBlue would almost certainly have to pay the cost, which he estimated at more than $10 million. He pointed to Houston Hobby Airport, where Southwest is paying for costs related to the construction of a new customs facility.
“We’re looking into it,” Rodriguez said. “We are going to be studying it pretty soon. It’s a question of whether a (customs facility) is financially viable in an airport of this size. (Customs facilities) are viable in very large airports that have large volumes going through them. We have to look at it objectively. That would be a policy decision by the (city) council.”
Long Beach is a relatively small airport, and its commercial operation is tightly controlled according to guidelines set by the Long Beach City Council. The airport has 41 available daily slots for large jet aircraft like the A320, A321 and Boeing 737. JetBlue has rights to 32 of those departures. The airport has an additional 25 slots for commuter planes, though the majority of those are unused. (Some of those had been held by ExpressJet before it pulled out of the market in 2008.)
Scott Laurence, JetBlue’s vice president for network planning, told me about a third of the carrier’s overall capacity is now on international flights. That flying is done from East Coast cities, like New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Laurence said he thinks Long Beach could be a strong international market and noted that the airline’s government affairs team is discussing possibilities with Long Beach officials.
“I am very excited about the potential that Long Beach has as an international gateway,” Laurence said in a recent interview. “Having a gateway from the west and specifically form the L.A. Basin seems to have a ton of possibility for us.”