An airline is facing criminal charges for allegedly violating the Long Beach Airport’s noise ordinance on 16 separate occasions in the past year, according to a criminal complaint filed this week by the city prosecutor’s office.
The complaint — filed against Mesa Airlines and American Eagle on Wednesday, Aug. 14 — alleges that the airline violated the city’s ordinance on noise curfews 16 times from August 2018 to July of this year. This is the fifth time the city has prosecuted an airline for violating the noise ordinance since 2002, City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said Friday.
“Prosecution is the appropriate action,” he said, “only after other efforts have been made to provide an operator with education, about the law and opportunities to bring their operations into compliance with the law. No criminal case is prosecuted unless all reasonable efforts have been exhausted before filing a criminal case.”
Mesa Airlines operates flights to and from the Long Beach Airport under the American Eagle brand, a regional branch of American Airlines. Mesa Airlines operates flights for American Eagle between Long Beach and Phoenix, Ariz., according to its route map.
“We will review the lawsuit,” American Airlines spokesman Curtis Blessing said Friday, “in coordination with Mesa.”
The airline allegedly violated the city’s single event noise exposure level, which sets decibel limits for various times of the day. For example, during the day, arriving aircraft must generate no more than 101.5 decibels of noise.
But from 6 to 7 a.m., and between 10 and 11 p.m., the decibel restriction drops to about 90. Overnight, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., that’s lowered to 79 decibels.
American Eagle, as written in the criminal complaint, allegedly exceeded the overnight noise exposure level 16 times; each of which is a misdemeanor count as laid out in the criminal complaint. And those decibel violations range from 87.7 to 92.5.
The first time an airline violates the noise ordinance, they will receive a warning letter, according to the Long Beach Airport. The second violation will warrant a request for a written noise abatement program, asking the owner or operator to explain how they plan to operate without violating the ordinance in the future.
The third violation will bring a $100 fine, with a fourth and every subsequent violation at a $300 fine.
Haubert said the city takes the noise ordinance seriously because of the impact to residents’ quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“As a general matter, the airport staff spends a lot of time trying to educate airport operators and to assist them with changing their operations to ensure there are no violations of the noise ordinance,” he said. “We have a lot of residential neighborhoods immediately surrounding the airport and they are significantly impacted by late-night flight operations.”
A noise ordinance like Long Beach’s, is extremely rare for other cities. Since the Federal Aircraft Noise Compatibility Act, passed in 1990, no other city has been able to secure a law as stringent as Long Beach’s, Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais told the City Council in 2015.
“It’s not like any other ordinance we have on the books,” Mais said at the time.
That’s what makes a criminal complaint, against an airline, equally as rare.
“It is unusual for us to criminally prosecute an airline,” Haubert said. “And we’re one of the few cities with the ability to prosecute airlines under local and federal law.”
An arraignment for the case is set for Wednesday, Oct. 2, at the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach.