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Airport noise solutions under consideration

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

The secret is out. Truckee has been discovered, and the impacts of growth can be seen all over town, including at the Truckee Tahoe Airport District.

In recent months noise from increased jet traffic at the airport has brought the issue of airplane disturbance into the limelight.

Interim General Manager for the Truckee Tahoe Airport Phred Stoner recorded 26 complaints in a 30-day period this August, the most in the airport’s history.

However, 15 of the 26 complaints were by the same person, which may have statisticians crying foul.

Stoner added that he feels each complaint is just as important as any other.

“I don’t mention any names to the board members, and I don’t want anybody feeling that they are being targeted or harassed. Whether or not individuals complain one time or 20, they are both significant,” he said.

Based on complaints, residents at Ponderosa Ranchos have been affected most by airport traffic. Officials estimate traffic at the airport to be 30,000 to 35,000 operations per year.

“People have complained about noise and low-flying planes,” airport district board member Robert Marshall said. “It seems obvious, but sometimes people don’t understand that planes have to be low to land.”

“Complainers and bad pilots are never going to go away, that’s a fact of life,” said Danny Motola, who recently joined the Noise Abatement Committee, a group of 12 resident pilots hoping to solve community problems by educating pilots, residents and the airport board about noise-minimizing solutions.

The Committee formed in May after the airport district board realized the request made by former general manager Peter Soderquist for a Part 150 Noise Study wouldn’t be granted by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).

“The FAA wouldn’t grant the study because the airport has so few operations,” Marshall said.

Marshall, who is responsible for taking comments from the committee and presenting them to the board, added that the board did not record complaints in the past because there were so few. Earlier this year Marshall installed a separate phone line for complaints and personally follows-up on each call to address the issues.

George Simmons, a Ponderosa Ranchos resident and current board candidate, wrote that the board “has been ineffectual at addressing the airport’s negative impact on the local environment,” noting that a pilot-only board is not likely to represent the needs and desires of the community.

Simmons added that curfews for take-off and landings and defining quiet arrival and departure routes would help to minimize noise.

While the board can recommend alternative flight patterns and operating procedures to pilots to minimize noise, they cannot tell them what to do, Marshall said.

As well, many of the solutions proposed by the Noise Abatement Committee, which include curfews for jets, alternative flight patterns, and fewer turns over noise-sensitive residential areas – to name a few – still must be discussed by the board, and must comply with FAA and Aircraft Operation Handbook safety guidelines.

“We are inviting the FAA to our meeting so they can better tell us what we can and can not do,” Ken Foster, president of the airport district board, said. “There aren’t hard and fast rules in this regard. It all depends on what happens in other communities and what happens in the courts.”

The Noise Abatement Committee goal is to educate local and visiting pilots in order to fly quieter and make the airport’s relationship with the community a friendlier one.

“One of our committee members is a former United Airlines pilot,” said Bob Horvath, a Noise Abatement Committee member, “and he said noise radiates from a track that spreads along a line of flight. Pilots can follow a track where the line of noise doesn’t overlap houses or golf course. So, we can steer pilots as they depart,” he said.

“However, we don’t have much of a choice,” Horvath added. “It may be the pilot’s first time to Truckee. The FAA has first-time landing regulations, but depending on the performance of the airplane they can only do a limited number of things. All the airplanes have to end up at the same place – at the landing zone of the runway,” he said.

According to the FAA, Truckee Tahoe Airport District does not have enough operations to warrant a control tower, which would help direct pilots toward flight patterns where noise disturbances could be mitigated.

“We have a salad bowl effect,” Marshall said. “We are surrounded by mountains, so planes have to work harder to climb out, and the noise gets reflected back in.”

Abatement committee members said Soderquist wrote airlines to educate them to Truckee’s noise situation long ago, and that he also met with individual pilots to tell them what they could do to minimize noise.

For more information about the noise abatement committee or how you can help contact Phred Stoner at the Truckee Tahoe Airport District at 587-4540.


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