Last month Long Beach Airport announced that it would be offering up 9 new slot pairs at their Southern California slot controlled airport. This was made public after an analysis done last year showed that the cumulative noise made by commercial jets at the airport presented noise levels low enough that it could raise the daily number of commercial flights by about 9 slots daily from the daily 41 flights, and still keep within the City of Long Beach’s noise ordinance.
The 9 slots were offered last month, JetBlue which has been the longstanding front-runner with the most slots at Long Beach requested all 9. Delta Airlines which also serves the airport requested 2, but it was a newcomer to the airport that caught everyone off guard: Southwest Airlines. Southwest put in a request for all 9 slots as well.
Southwest is the largest low cost airline in the U.S. and has a huge presence within California – however a number of airlines have tried over the years to make Long Beach work, yet JetBlue has been the only airline in the Long Beach Airports history to make Long Beach a true focus of operations.
Last week, the Long Beach Airport Authority announced the winners of the slots: JetBlue 3, Delta 2 and Southwest 4. While JetBlue certainly can do well with their current offering and new slots, it is curious to see where Southwest will operate flights to from Long Beach. Only holding 4 slot pairs does not give Southwest much room to wiggle with.
Traffic at Long Beach has been down since it’s peak in 2012. JetBlue was operating a full schedule at that time, but since then Alaska Airlines has also discontinued flights to Long Beach leaving only JetBlue to serve the Seattle market with it’s two flights a day. US Airways – now merged with American Airlines – continues to serve the airport from their Phoenix hub albeit with smaller regional jets. Traffic in 2014 at Long Beach was 1.4 million a 12% drop from it’s peak in 2012. With capacity at other Southern California airports beginning to reach capacity, it’s no surprise that Southwest has decided to make the jump to Long Beach which has long been a JetBlue dominated airport.
JetBlue has stated for some time that they would like to use commuter aircraft slots not included in the previous 41 commercial slots for their smaller E190 aircraft, but also that they are interested in a customs FIS facility at Long Beach, allowing them to begin international operations, where there are higher fares and less competition. While the city looks into adding an expensive customs facility, there are many court battles ahead to try and use commuter slots for their E190 aircraft, however JetBlue is not currently using all their slots at Long Beach.
JetBlue holds 32 slot pairs at Long Beach, but the current schedule for JetBlue only has them operating 22 departures or about 150 departures a week. While this usually increases in the summer as more people travel, JetBlue has the possibility of operating as many as 224 flights a week. With Southwest now planning to make their entrance known in Long Beach we can likely guess that JetBlue will have no choice but to operate a full schedule from Long Beach or return the unused slots. There is no doubt that Southwest would be quick to point out JetBlue not making full use of their slots in a “use them or lose” scenario which might unfold in the near future. While Southwest is only being offered 4 slots at the airport it should be noted that airports like New York’s LaGuardia started Southwest’s operation with only a handful of slots and now has a large presence (some of those LGA slots were gained from their merger with AirTran as well). Southwest is nothing if not patient when it comes to new airports and operations to attain their long term goals.
While we’re all waiting to see what new routes are to be announced, this is great news for the airport of Long Beach and any passengers wanting to fly from there.