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Airlines now must fly more of the daily flights allocated to them at Long Beach Airport in order to keep those flights.

The City Council passed the amendment to airport regulations Tuesday night in a nearly empty Council Chambers, and there was not a single public comment before the vote. JetBlue Airways, which holds the majority of flights in Long Beach, submitted a letter during the comment period complaining that the new regulations was aimed at punishing JetBlue, but no company representative attended the meeting.

Airport Executive Director Jess Romo told the council that the changes came from a long and inclusive process. He emphasized that the changes did not impact the city’s noise ordinance, which both limits the number of flights and sets curfews for flight operations.

“This resolution was adopted in 2004, and has been amended six times,” Romo said. “It deals only with the minimum use requirements.”

There currently are 50 daily commercial flight slots (a landing and takeoff), with all the slots allocated. JetBlue controls 34 slots, and flies them 66 percent of the time over a 180-day period. Southwest (6), Delta (4), American (3) and Hawaiian (1) all fly 100 percent of their flights while two commercial carriers, FedEx and UPS each has one flight they uses on weekdays only.

Under the new rules, airlines must fly 60 percent of flights in a month (about four times a week), 70 percent in a quarter (five a week) and 85 percent (six flights) over a year. Failure to do so could result in losing slots to another airline.

“The historical failure by air carriers to adequately utilize their allocated flight slots is minimizing the opportunities for other incumbent and new entrant air carriers to increase or initiate service at the airport,” Romo said. “This is particularly problematic with the recent increase in demand for airport flight slots.”

JetBlue came to Long Beach in 2001, restarting a then-moribund commercial passenger service. But in recent years the airline has been at odds with the city over frequent curfew violations. It also lost a battle to allow international flights into Long Beach.

A letter from JetBlue’s senior vice president, Robert Land, said, “It is further regrettable that the city continues to take steps that appear specifically designed to harm JetBlue, an airline and corporate citizen that places tremendous value on being a force for good in communities that it serves.”

JetBlue announced in April it would reduce slots to 23, making 12 available, but Romo said that was temporary, prompting the need for permanent change.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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