Airport, residents seek solutions to noise | SierraSun.com

Airport, residents seek solutions to noise

David Bunker, Sierra Sun

Airport-area residents suggested reducing airport operating hours, lowering the weight limit for planes arriving at the airport and raising fees for itinerant aircraft to alleviate noise concerns and low-flight incidents during Tuesday’s airport noise forum.

The meeting, attended by more than 25 residents and airport staff, illustrated the difficulty of a problem that has galvanized homeowners tired of dealing with the nuisance of airport noise and worried that airport operations are devaluing their homes.

Airport officials, at the same time, are effectively powerless to control airplane maneuvers that occur sometimes miles away from the airport. While they have distributed almost 3,000 maps to pilots that detail suggested noise-sensitive flight paths, updated noise abatement procedures in various nation-wide publications and added a noise technician to staff, low-flight, noise and off-path aircraft complaints have increased by almost 20 percent in the last year.

“We have some very low and very large airplanes dusting the trees,” Martis Valley Estates resident Denny Dickinson said. “They do it all the time, and they are all very low.”

The attendees were at times outspoken, but the meeting stayed in check, allowing ample time for suggestions and ideas to be debated.

Airport Assistant Manager Michael Scott said although the meeting was heated at times, it was a vast improvement over the previous noise forum.

Recommended Stories For You

“Last time it was a near riot,” he said.

Charlotte Byrne, an Alder Drive resident, said that jets pass over her house so low that she can “count the rivets on their belly.”

“The airport is an attractive nuisance with no responsibility over the nuisances that they attract,” she said.

Kevin Bumen, noise and business operations technician, noted that the airport makes its best effort to contact individual pilots on specific complaints. The airport recorded 187 unsolicited contacts with pilots to review or present noise abatement procedures, in addition to the number of contacts the airport makes in response to complaints.

Scott said low-flight complaints should be addressed directly to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“For accuracy’s sake and first-hand knowledge sake, you are best to go directly to the FAA,” he said.

He also objected to several comments that the airport staff is not doing anything to solve the noise problem.

“We try to do a better job of letting people know we’re not just sitting on our thumbs,” Scott said. “It’s not like we are not listening or not hearing.”

He mentioned that the airport has put in a request with the FAA to move the TRUCK intersection, a reconfiguration of planes’ flight paths which would allow planes even more leeway to avoid flying over higher terrain and heavily populated areas.

Another airport initiative that Scott pointed to was the offer of discounts on certain fuel in exchange for a pilot’s commitment to follow noise abatement procedures on the flight path map.

Scott believes that the increased complaints may be tied to attention that the airport is attracting by updating its Land Use Compatibility Plan and the increased development of the area.

The increased development is certainly a concern for both the airport and residents. Developments such as the Gray’s Crossing proposal essentially lock in the airport, meaning it will no longer have a swath of largely undeveloped land to utilize as a flight path for aircraft. Development will also mean increased airport operations demand from areas like Martis Valley, which is expected to be populated with mostly second-home owners. The Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan projects that yearly operations will reach 120,000 in the next 20 years.

The airport sees a federal phasing out of stage 2 engines, which generate high levels of noise and complaints, as a long-term, realistic solution.

“Every time a G2 flies into this airport my staff goes, ‘Oh no, we’re going to hear about this,'” said airport General Manager Dave Gotschall.

Gotschall also suggested the airport could construct a second major runway, which is already in the airport’s master plan, to open up right-hand arrival traffic, thus lessening the noise impact on communities to the east of the airport. But politically he doubted that the proposal would fly.

“Would it just be touted in the newspaper as ‘they are just doing that so they can attract commercial service?'” he said.

However, community members still see these efforts as inadequate.

“I think that we’re more concerned with the amount of complaints that we get, rather than actually trying to solve the problem,” said Lynne Larson of Ponderosa Ranchos.

Area homeowners said touch-and-go flight training, glider-pulling planes and early and late flights were among the worst noise culprits.

They supported the idea of cutting fueling and service hours to encourage pilots to restrict their operations to a reduced schedule when noise is less offensive.

Residents also suggested the addition of a tower or an FAA presence at the airport to respond to complaints directly.

All of the suggestions voiced at the meeting – including inviting an FAA official to a noise forum and tying a pilot’s loss of hangar privileges to repeated low-flight complaints – will be discussed by staff, and many of them will be brought up for consideration at the Jan. 23 airport board meeting.