Airport’s Passenger Count a Sign of Recovery

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
The increase in passenger traffic at the Hollywood Burbank Airport follows a rising vaccination rate and plummeting coronavirus case count, and national metrics show demand for air travel persists despite the threat of the Delta variant.

May’s passenger count at Hollywood Burbank Airport was more than six times greater than the tally in May 2020, the airport reported this week.

More than 245,000 paying passengers boarded flights or deplaned at the airport in May, according to a staff report submitted to the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority for its Monday meeting. Fewer than 40,000 passengers were recorded at the airport in the same month last year.

“It’s actually very gratifying to see that we’re starting to experience the recovery,” Frank Miller, executive director of the airport, said in an interview. “To be honest with you, I think we as much as anyone else in our industry [were] a little surprised to see how quickly it seems to be happening, especially in Burbank.”

Miller credited the increase to pent-up demand and the recent arrival of Avelo Airlines. He also pointed to Frontier Airlines, a “low fare” service that last week began flights from Hollywood Burbank. The carrier has announced plans to cease operations at Los Angeles International Airport.

Despite its recent recovery, the local airport remains well below its pre-pandemic passenger count. Nearly 500,000 travelers passed through it in May 2019, and the number of passengers counted from January through May this year was nearly 42% lower than the number of travelers for the same period last year.

Still, the growth appears promising: May’s figures were more than 43% higher than those reported in April.

The increase in passenger traffic followed a rising vaccination rate and plummeting coronavirus case count. But even as the former slows and the latter climbs nationwide, travelers across the country seem to remain anxious to return to the skies. The number of people who went through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at airports in the first week of July was about 20% lower than the number in the same period in 2019. For the first week of May 2021, roughly 32% fewer passengers were reported compared with the same period in 2019.

‘WE ARE BEING ANNIHILATED’ BY NOISE

Airport officials spent nearly two hours during the authority’s Monday meeting hearing noise complaints from those living near the facility.

Dozens of people — many of them from Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Woodland Hills and other areas of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley — called on the authority to pressure the Federal Aviation Administration to address longstanding noise issues the residents have had with planes coming from Hollywood Burbank.

“We are being annihilated,” said Sherman Oaks resident Shawn Robinson, who noted that some neighbors have moved because of the noise from the planes. “This is cruel.”

Community members say the issues began when the FAA implemented its Next Generation Air Transportation System, also called NextGen, in 2017. NextGen proponents said the satellite-based system would increase the efficiency of flight paths, but several L.A. groups objected to the shift, believing it led to more planes over their areas.

A Hollywood Burbank Airport-commissioned report found in 2018 that while NextGen’s implementation did not lead to increased operations, flight paths had been concentrated south of the 101 Freeway since the system began operating.

A noise task force formed by the cities of Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and L.A. recommended, among several other items, that the FAA return to flight tracks used before NextGen’s implementation. The FAA said doing so was not feasible, arguing the system was necessary to address an increased number of flights. The agency has also said that NextGen procedures begin only north of the airport.

More than a year after the task force’s most recent meeting, callers — including L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian — pleaded with the airport authority this week to aggressively lobby the FAA to heed their concerns.

Miller, the airport executive director, told authority members that the facility plans to conduct a noise study as it recovers from the pandemic. But he and the commissioners emphasized that the FAA ultimately controls the flights.

Commissioner Don Brown, who along with former Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy and former City Manager Robert Ovrom represents Burbank on the airport authority, was more direct, saying the panel should ask the FAA’s lead administrator, Stephen Dickson, “to do his job.”

Brown also noted that noise complaints regarding aircraft are not exclusive to the San Fernando Valley, adding, “It surprises me that nobody has taken what I think is the best possible way, [that] is to notify the president of the United States, who is in charge of everybody, that this is a nationwide problem, not just a Burbank problem. … There’s got to be a reason why this problem has not been looked into, and I do not believe it has been thoroughly looked into.”

L.A. recently sued the FAA over its approval of a replacement terminal project at Hollywood Burbank. That city is also seeking an injunction preventing the airport authority from continuing the project until the city’s concerns about the new terminal are addressed.