Almanac

News - November 20, 2013

Aircraft noise by Surf Air upsets Atherton residents

by Renee Batti

Atherton residents have been making some noise of their own over the increase in aircraft noise that's resulted from a start-up company's new flight service into and out of the San Carlos Airport.

The impact of Surf Air's single-engine turboprop aircraft flights over Atherton, and possible steps the town can take to mitigate the noise, will be discussed at the City Council's regular meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said she has met with representatives of Surf Air and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as with county Supervisor Warren Slocum, to try to work out solutions to the high-decibel problem. Surf Air has already put in place several measures, such as keeping the aircraft's gear up and flying faster over the affected areas, but residents have reported that the change in noise level is "indiscernible," Mayor Lewis said.

Neighborhoods most affected are in the north and eastern areas of town, including Encinal School, she said.

In a staff report, City Manager George Rodericks said the town last month assisted with a decibel reading at 20 Holbrook Lane, and measured the noise from a Surf Air plane flying about 1,500 feet overhead at 68-72 decibels. The town's noise ordinance restricts noise at that time of day — about 7:30 a.m. — to 60 decibels, the report said. The ambient noise at that location registered 48.5-51.5 decibels.

Mr. Rodericks said that Surf Air is planning to expand its services, and "it is likely that there will be additional flights added to the San Carlos Airport."

The new company is an "all-you-can-fly membership service" aiming to "revolutionize the world of air travel," according to its website. It now offers 16 daily departures between Burbank, San Carlos, and Santa Barbara, and next month will add Hawthorne and Palm Springs to the mix, the website says. And, it says, "We plan to expand soon to Monterey, San Diego, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, and the Sonoma/Napa area."

The FAA representative who met with the mayor and others in town "encouraged the residents to form a committee and request a 'new plane approach' to address the noise issue," Mr. Rodericks said in the report.

Mayor Lewis told the Almanac that getting a new approach approved by the FAA could take more than two years, but the town needs to start the process. She said the approach possibly could be redirected over US-101, and that the town doesn't want it pushed over into other neighborhoods.

Although the glide path into San Carlos Airport has been in place for many years, the increase in noise is due to the added number of flights with Surf Air's launch, and the larger size of the aircraft Surf Air is flying, Mayor Lewis said.

The council will discuss Mr. Rodericks' recommendation that the mayor and council member-elect Rick DeGolia be authorized "to facilitate a public meeting, inviting council representatives from adjacent jurisdictions," to gather public comment. Mr. DeGolia has been active in meetings of town officials and residents on the issue.

The Nov. 20 meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 94 Ashfield Road in the Town Center.

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