Following a lively ribbon-cutting ceremony on the evening of December 5, Long Beach Airport opens its new passenger concourse for operational use on the morning of December 12.
On December 6, reporters saw the new facility by daylight and found that last-minute construction work – concealed from the dignitaries’ and guests’ view the previous evening – was still going on, as contractors raced to have the new concourse ready the day before it was due to open.
But daylight also allowed reporters to see how innovative the airport’s new passenger concourse really is. Various local concessions (all offering street prices) line the indoor areas of the concourse.
These include a stylish restaurant, a burger bar, a sushi restaurant and a Fourth Street Vine wine bar, in addition to George’s Greek Café and local shops.
One notable feature of the new concourse is that the airport makes tablet computers available – in a fixed double row on the concourse’s eastern side – for passengers to use.
Dominated by a large central outdoor garden – featuring indigenous grasses and plants, high palm trees and fire pits, in true Southern California fashion – in an airside area beyond the security checkpoint, the new passenger concourse cost $45 million to build.
This figure includes the bond-issuance costs associated with the municipal debt financing used to finance the construction cost of the new, 11-gate facility.
While $45 million might seem a lot to the average person, Mario Rodriguez, director of Long Beach Airport, assured reporters that “the price is about one-tenth of what [new terminals at] other airports cost”.
The management of Long Beach Airport (IATA code LGB) kept the cost down by having the new passenger concourse designed as a single-story building.
It has no air passenger bridges, passengers (as has always been the case at LGB) walking from the gates to their aircraft and using hairpin-style ramps to board and disembark from their flights.
Rodriguez stresses that LGB has not passed any of the cost of the new facility on to its airline tenants – JetBlue Airways (which has 32 of the 41 daily large-aircraft slot pairs currently allowed at LGB), Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways.
As a result, says Rodriguez, passengers will not see increased fares from LGB as a result of its airlines passing on additional airport costs to them. LGB touts its record as having the lowest average fares of any commercial airport in California and the second-lowest of any airport in the U.S.
The $45 million cost of the new concourse is just part of a $145 million renovation which LGB has undergone. Most of the remaining $100 million has gone on a new multi-story parking garage within walking distance of the terminal; renovation of the airport’s original main terminal building, listed as a historical landmark by the City of Long Beach; and upgrading of the terminal’s aircraft ramps.
Some funding has been used to redesign LGB’s landside approaches to the security checkpoint. These are now open garden areas through which passengers and the public can stroll. Food and beverage retail carts are stationed at various locations throughout – so no-one need go hungry or thirsty and vendors will have much to smile about.
According to Rodriguez and to Bob Foster, mayor of the City of Long Beach, the key ethos in designing the new concourse and its approach areas was to create a space that reflected the nature of the city.
After seeing most of its aerospace and all of its U.S. Navy jobs leave the city in the early 1990s, Long Beach has had to re-invent itself, according to Foster. It has done so, with visible success, as a tourism center specializing in association and convention business, and has also developed a thriving technology-company community in a northeastern area of the city.
As a tourism city, Long Beach wanted its renewed airport to make passengers feel like they were in a resort hotel – hence the outdoor gardens and the concourse’s relaxed, spacious feel.
Foster revealed to reporters that the original plans for the new concourse called for it to be 130,000 square feet in area. However, planners and city leaders quickly realized this was too big and scaled it down to 90,000 square feet. The concourse has been built at this size.
“I can’t see what you would do with another 40,000 square feet,” said Foster. “We’re Long Beach, we’re not Los Angeles.”
One thing passengers won’t notice in LGB’s new concourse is a huge number of additional passengers. LGB’s commercial aviation slots are covered by noise ordinances which allow only a set total amount of aircraft noise, as measured by various sensors around the airport and the local community.
Today the ordinances allow 41 large-aircraft slot pairs – all of which are taken up – and 25 “commuter” slot pairs, some of which remain open but which only cover aircraft up to about the size of a DC-3. (One company, Catalina Flying Boats, regularly operates DC-3s from Long Beach, carrying freight to Santa Catalina Island.)
Only as aircraft noise gradually becomes quieter on average, as more new aircraft are introduced, might LGB’s noise ordinances allow increased numbers of commercial flights. Today, Rodriguez notes, airlines are growing their passenger numbers at LGB by switching from regional jets to mainline single-aisle aircraft.
As a regional airport not aiming to compete with Los Angeles International Airport, LGB suits aircraft of about 150-seat size, according to Rodriguez. JetBlue is already all-A320 at the airport and both Delta and US Airways are upgrading their services to mainline narrowbodies.
Last year LGB handled 3.2 million passengers. Because of its growth constraints for commercial service, this figure is unlikely to grow substantially in the near term.
Present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dave Clark, JetBlue Airways’ director of schedule planning, confirms that one day his airline would like to offer service to Hawaii from LGB, its main West Coast airport. “Hawaii would be a natural fit for our product and our service,” said Clark.
However, this won’t happen before 2017, when JetBlue receives the first of 40 Airbus A320neo jets on order. These should have the additional range necessary to reach Hawaii with adequate reserve fuel for diversions; JetBlue’s current A320s can’t make the range and retain the required reserves.