An aircraft marshaller guides a JetBlue plane on the tarmac at Long Beach Airport in Long Beach. (Bloomberg photo by Patrick T. Fallon)

By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram

Passenger counts at Long Beach Airport increased significantly over the first half of 2017, rising by nearly 47 percent on a year-over-year basis, officials said Monday.

LGB data counts a passenger every time a person boards or steps off an airplane that takes off from or lands at the airport. Statistics show more than 1.8 million passengers tallied at LGB during the first six months of this year.

That’s about 47 percent greater than the nearly 1.3 million passengers counted during the January-through-June period in 2016.

Data specific to the month of June shows about 313,000 passenger trips at LGB that month, signifying a 25 percent year-over-year increase.

The sharp increase likely reflects the implementation of the late 2015 decision to allow airlines to increase flight operations at LGB, airport spokeswoman Stephanie Montuya-Morisky said. That decision allowed commercial airlines to have 50 daily flights at LGB instead of the previous limit of 41.

Former airport chief Bryant Francis announced the move to increased flight operations in late 2015. Montuya-Morisky said airlines had not fully ramped up their operations to take advantage of additional flight opportunities during the early months of 2016, which may explain why passenger counts for the first six months of this year are so much higher.

Long Beach’s noise control ordinance essentially sets a budget for flight operations based on how much noise aircraft make when taking off or landing at LGB. Francis said before his departure to run Oakland International Airport that surveys of observed noise levels around LGB demonstrated that airlines’ shift to newer, quieter aircraft should make it possible for carriers to increase flight operations without running afoul of the noise limit.

The decision to allow increased flights made it possible for Southwest Airlines to begin service at LGB last year.

LGB and its neighbors, however, have also seen increases in the number of late flight operations taking place after 11 p.m. even though LGB imposes a curfew intended to prevent aircraft from arriving or departing between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The number of flight operations taking place after 11 p.m. at LGB had begun to trend upward before the decision to increase flight operations had been made. The number of such flights involving passenger carriers flying jumbo jets totaled at 81 late flights in 2014 before rising to 163 late flights last year.

Through May, LGB stats show 112 late passenger flights, up roughly 51 percent compared to the first five months of 2016.

LGB often requires airlines to pay fines for late flights. Fines paid by JetBlue Airways Corp., which operates more flights at LGB than any other airline, have historically been diverted to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.

A proposal to redirect those dollars to noise reduction projects is on hold, pending input from the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office to the city’s Airport Advisory Commission.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the number of flight operations that took place between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. in 2016.