JetBlue Airways is reevaluating its future plans for flights out of Long Beach Airport after the Long Beach City Council last week rejected the airline’s request to offer international flights.
The council voted 8-1 to drop a proposal to fund the construction of a U.S. Customs and federal inspection facility, a necessary precursor to allowing carriers to offer international flights.
“We are extremely disappointed that the City Council would reject the development of a federal inspection station after years of delays and a city-mandated study validating the safety, security, and positive economic nature of the project,” Rob Land, JetBlue’s senior vice president of government affairs, said last week in a statement after the vote. “We will evaluate our future plans for Long Beach, as well as the greater Los Angeles area and California.”
Council members who voted to shelve the plan said the cost of up to $20 million to build the facility would divert money from other airport operations and projects. Some lawmakers also expressed concern that allowing international flights would increase pressure to lift or alter airport noise restrictions.
But the vote throws into uncertainty the future plans of JetBlue, by far the largest airline at the facility. During the first 11 months of last year, more than 976,000 passengers boarded JetBlue planes at Long Beach Airport, 84 percent of all boardings.
JetBlue requested adding international flights two years ago. By offering the service out of Long Beach – primarily to Mexico – JetBlue officials said they hoped to turn that operation into a full-service hub.
With international flights ruled out at Long Beach, JetBlue might have to switch more operations to nearby Los Angeles International Airport if it wants a consolidated full-service hub for the region. Given the carrier’s dominance at Long Beach Airport, a major shift of flights away from the airport could have severe impacts.
Officials said they intend to ensure that the airport will continue to offer flights to a wide array of destinations.
“Long Beach Airport is not only important to Long Beach, but vital to the entire region’s economic growth, and we will strive to maintain that status,” Jess Romo, Long Beach Airport director, said in a statement. “We look forward to maintaining a steady future with routes and destinations that make sense for the whole community without impeding on an airline’s choice to make their own business decisions.”
Romo added, “The main priority is to maintain the airport as a self-sustaining enterprise fund that does not take general fund dollars.”
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