Santa Monica sues FAA over Santa Monica Airport

The city of Santa Monica filed suit Thursday against the Federal Aviation Administration in a battle that could shape the future of Santa Monica Airport.

According to the suit, filed in Federal Court in Los Angeles, Santa Monica seeks to have the court rule that that the city holds the clear title to the land and can do with it what it wants once a 25-year-old agreement with the FAA expires in 2015. The suit asks the court to declare unconstitutional an FAA claim that the city must operate the airport in perpetuity.

The airport, wedged in a residential area and populated by private jets, is a hot-button issue in Santa Monica. Many residents want it closed for issues of noise and safety. The issue moved to the forefront earlier this month after a jet crashed at the airport, as Los Angeles Times reporters Dan Weikel and Angel Jennings reported.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor declined to comment on pending litigation. But yes, the FAA has in the past advocated that the airport stay open. Here’s why, according a statement the FAA has been using for several years:

In the FAA’s view, the City is obligated to keep Santa Monica Airport open through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal Airport Improvement Program grants.  The FAA also believes that the City is separately obligated to operate Santa Monica Airport beyond 2023 because it acquired the land on which the airport is located cost free from the Federal Government in 1948 under an instrument of transfer pursuant to the Surplus Property Act. The FAA is fully committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping this airport open and operating, including specific performance of these obligations.

I don’t regularly cover Santa Monica airport, but it will be interesting to see how this resolves.

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Delta and Jetblue plan to move fast to allow iPhones, Kindles and other devices at all altitudes

JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines are wasting no time ensuring that passengers will soon be able to use their electronic devices in all stages of flight.

JetBlue could be first, with an airline spokeswoman telling me it could be as quickly as this afternoon. “JetBlue will allow the use of PEDs as quickly as we receive approval from the FAA,” spokeswoman Sharon Jones said.

Delta, too, is moving quickly, though it may not be ready until Friday. Here’s what Delta officials have to say:

 Delta Air Lines is ready to allow its customers to be the first to use their portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet as early as Nov. 1, 2013 pending Federal Aviation Administration approval. All Delta aircraft have completed carrier-defined PED tolerance testing to ensure the safe operation of passenger portable electronic devices during all phases of flight and Delta’s plan has been submitted to the FAA for approval.

As I reported earlier this morning, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow airlines to set their own rules regarding whether passengers can use iPads, iPhones, Kindles and other similar devices during the entire flight, including takeoff and landing. The airlines will have to prove to the FAA that that the devices will not conflict with flight operations.(Currently, devices must be shut off at altitudes lower than 10,000 feet.)

Even under the new system, customers will not be able to make calls or use their phones to transmit data on any airline. So “airplane mode” will still be useful.

Like a lot of customers, I’m impressed that JetBlue and Delta are moving so fast on this. But I imagine that all airlines will move relatively quickly. There’s no reason for them to be at a competitive disadvantage.

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FAA will allow iPads, Kindles and other devices in all stages of flight

Finally.

About a half a century after federal regulators put in place a ban on electronic devices during some phases of flight, the the Federal Aviation Administration is ready to considerably loosen restrictions.

Pretty much everything will be fair game during all phases of flight soon, with the exception of cell phones. According to the New York Times, those are the domain of the Federal Communications Commission.

There’s a slight catch, but it sounds like it won’t be a problem. Airlines will have to prove to the FAA that items like Kindles, ipads and other tablets won’t interfere with flight.

A 28-member committee, filled with airline and communications industry officials, had recommended the change in September.

“We found that we could protect aviation safety and at the same time address the passenger desire for use of their portable devices,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters, according to USA Today. “The committee determined that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices.”

Electronic devices have long been allowed when an airplane is higher than 10,000 feet. But this change should allow to play with their machines even during landing and takeoff, as long as they are not transmitting.  (Of course, a lot of people have been surreptitiously doing that for years, but that’s another story.)

According to an FAA statement referenced in the Chicago Tribune: “The agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.”

 

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Long Beach Airport’s location helps it retain passengers and flights

What’s the target market for Long Beach Airport?

According to some materials I obtained last week from the airport, it’s the 1.5 million potential passengers living within about 11 miles of the airport. Not a bad home market, especially considering the airport is about halfway between Los Angeles International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. The demographics are strong.

LGB Slide 1

In my story about Long Beach Airport’s strengths that ran earlier this week, airport manager Mario Rodriguez said the ‘yields’ airlines get a little higher the farther south you go in the catchment area. Essentially that means that the closer you get to Orange County, the higher fares passengers are willing to pay.

LGB Slide 2

If you believe this slide, below, Long Beach officials are pleased with the stature of the airport, which is limited, by noise regulations, to 66 commercial departures daily. (Only 41 of those flights can be on relatively large airplanes, like the A320 and 737. The other 25 slots go to so-called commuter airplanes, like the CR2 and CR7. Many of those slots are unused.)

LGB Slide 3

According to Long Beach officials, the airport could probably grow slightly if noise restrictions loosened. (That’s probably a moot issue. While I haven’t been covering the airport for that long, I don’t think city council leaders are prepared to make substantive changes to the ordinance.)

LGB Slide 4

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US Airways will not switch LAX terminals until at least February 2014

US Airways will not switch LAX terminals until at least February 2014.

US Airways will not switch LAX terminals until at least February 2014.

US Airways, which was slated to switch terminals next month at Los Angeles International Airport, will not move until at least February 2014, an airport official told me this week.

US Airways will go from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 to allow Southwest Airlines to spend $400 million on a Terminal 1 renovation project. Eventually, if US Airways is permitted to merge with American, it could move into American’s Terminal 4.

It turns out that playing musical terminals is not easy. No major airline will be moving out of Terminal 3, so with US Airways in there, it will be a tight squeeze. (Virgin Australia is moving out of Terminal 3 for the Tom Bradley International Terminal, but it is a relatively minor player.)

Virgin America is currently the top tenant at Terminal 3. Here’s how Virgin America could be impacted, according to airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

Virgin America currently has 6 preferential-use gates to schedule its flights at T-3.  Virgin Australia’s consolidation of its departures and arrivals at TBIT improves gate availability at T-3.  However, daily operating fluctuations may impact gate availability and airlines may be assigned to remote gates on an equitable basis whenever there are more planes on the ground than available gates.

“Remote Gates” sounds like a relatively innocuous term. But fliers hate them. They’re usually gates far away from the main terminal, and they require passengers to board a bus to reach them.

UPDATE 2:15: A Virgin America spokesman just emailed:

 ”We have been working in close coordination with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) on this issue and we are confident that the interim solution reached with LAWA will result in minimal disruption — if any — for Virgin America guests and our operations at LAX.”

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