More than 80 percent of flights that have broken the late-night takeoff curfew at San Diego International Airport this year have resulted in fines to airlines — a much higher percentage than in the last several years.
This increase has occurred since inewsource reported last November that little more than half of violations are punished. inewsource found that out of the 217 violations from January 2010 to July 2015, 54 percent resulted in fines.
Recent fines have been hefty. In less than one year of enforcement, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority doubled what it brought in during any of the previous five years.
Takeoffs have been banned between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. to control noise in neighborhoods like Bankers Hill, Loma Portal and Mission Beach since 1989. Violators are subject to fines ranging from $2,000 to $30,000 depending on frequency, but not all airlines violating curfew must pay.
Rebecca Bloomfield, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, said airlines that experience delays due to mechanical, weather or traffic control issues in San Diego do not incur a fine. Only flights that miss curfew because of delays or mechanical issues in other cities receive a penalty.
“There’s a balance when it comes to these curfews,” Bloomfield said. “We want to ensure that airlines are able to continue operating here in a profitable manner while also ensuring that we’re good community partners and good neighbors.”
Data from the Airport Authority shows that out of the 49 flights that broke curfew through September of this year, 40 were given fines totaling $380,000.
Debbie Watkins is a member of the Airport Noise Advisory Committee, which brings together community planning group members and city officials to discuss airport noise issues. She said the panel that reviews curfew violations is listening to the community’s complaints.
“People are more vigilant today,” Watkins said. “We don’t want curfew violations, so of course they’re looking into it with a more fine tooth comb and they’re punishing the multiple offenders that we have.”
Some airlines are multiple offenders. British Airways, for example, missed curfew eight times between June and September this year, which resulted in total fines of $132,000.
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Documents don’t say what caused a delay that resulted in a fine. However, members of the noise advisory committee said the delays may have occurred because the airline replaced smaller aircraft with larger planes without accurately estimating the increased time it takes to board those planes and takeoff.
Three airport officials sit on the curfew violation review panel to decide which airlines are fined and which are not. Bloomfield said airlines attend the review panel’s meeting and “typically present some documentation or record showing the issue” with hope of convincing the panel that a late takeoff is exempt from the penalty.
Last year, airport officials told inewsource the decision to not penalize airlines for late takeoff often is based on a need to ensure safety, despite frustrations from the nearby community.
Bloomfield said the fine structure has had a positive outcome by influencing airlines to adjust schedules. JetBlue, for example, committed to sending incoming flights from Boston earlier, ensuring they would leave San Diego on time starting in 2014. She said this “helped tremendously” with delays.
Data, however, shows JetBlue violated curfew 25 times since 2014, resulting in $236,000 in fines.
“I can’t speak to why each individual violation has been fined or why those numbers are up,” Bloomfield said about the ongoing violations. “All we can do at the Airport Authority is keep working with those airlines to make sure they know the importance of the curfew.”
Calling this a ban seems disingenuous. The Airport Authority has the ability to truly ban take-offs after 11:30. Instead they allow them and then review whether to fine the airlines. For the airlines, this simply becomes a cost of doing business.
Good work, inewsource. Curfews need to be enforced, if airlines are to change the patterns which are within their control. Fines, if hefty enough, should lead to changed behavior.
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