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Residents have growing concerns over small commuter planes

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Fledgling airline Surf Air's marketing slogan is "Disruptive Innovation -- A Revolutionary Approach to Air Travel." Some residents in Menlo Park, Redwood City and Atherton say it sums up their experience with the commuter airline's turbo-propeller planes.

Surf Air started flying out of San Carlos Airport in June 2013. The startup airline offers members unlimited flights for a monthly fee between regional airports, including Burbank, Hawthorne, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas and Truckee. It currently has as many as 24 flights to and from San Carlos, with the earliest departing at 7:05 a.m. on weekdays and the last arriving at 8:55 p.m.

On weekends, the first flight leaves at 8 a.m. on Saturday and the last lands at 10 p.m. on Sunday, according to the company's website. The airline plans to add Oakland and Carlsbad to its service in November and December.

But its concierge service has upset Midpeninsula residents, who say its Pilatus aircraft is exceedingly noisy. CalmTheSkies, a group based in Atherton, has been trying to get the company to change its flight paths or to have the planes fly higher. A Sept. 30 meeting at Holbrook-Palmer Park brought together people from Palo Alto to Redwood City to voice their concerns to Surf Air executives.

"A critical takeaway is that this isn't an Atherton problem. It is a problem that affects many communities," Atherton resident David Fleck, an organizer, said.

Residents said the plane's sound frequency has been like nothing they have experienced before.

"I call it the blue-bellied beast," said Sheri Shenk, who said the planes shake her home. Her visiting grandchildren ran for cover during a recent visit.

"I gauge it by the height of my redwood tree. It's often lower than 1,500 feet," she said.

Surf Air CEO Jeff Potter, a former Frontier Airlines CEO who took over in February, said the airline wants to work with the community. Surf is testing a new, quintuple-bladed propeller that might be quieter than the four-bladed type in current use, he said. The airline would like to fly out of Moffett Field, which could eliminate some of the noisy traffic currently burdening south San Mateo County cities, but so far the company hasn't gotten approval, he said.

Pilots at the Sept. 30 meeting said that Surf Air pilots need training on best practices to descend more quietly in the Pilatus aircraft.

CalmTheSkies is also working to try to get the Federal Aviation Administration to increase the altitudes on flight paths or spread the flight approaches over U.S. Highway 101.

Some residents say they have already done enough talking, and they are considering legal options.

"That's very indicative about how upset people are becoming in our community," Fleck said.

San Mateo County has continued to accept federal money from the FAA. Some residents say it is time to stop.

"In doing so, they're giving away the ability of the county to have leverage to manage ground operations better. We can no longer demand to manage curfews or the number of flights," Fleck said.

The residents also want better noise monitoring. The studies are dated to before the class of aircraft such as Pilatus existed, he said.

Noise studies are also generally done nearest to airports.

"They don't extend back to the community," he said.

Residents said they are closely evaluating candidates running in this November's election for their responsiveness on the issue.

"It's the county's responsibility. They own it -- it's their airport. ... We're really questioning where our seats of government are on these issues. They are missing in action, and we need them front and center," Fleck said.

Related content:

Residents, city officials gear up to fight increased airplane noise

Government officials attempt to influence aircraft regulations

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1 person likes this
Posted by Max
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 29, 2014 at 6:45 pm

I'm so glad action is being take to stop this nuisance When I visited a friend over the weekend, I felt like diving for cover as those planes roared overhead. Conversation was impossible. The lack of consideration for those being impacted by those planes is unconscionable.

All the best to "Calm the Skies!"

Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Don't forget all the drones that companies are planning. How noisy will they be?

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

histrionic much?

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Just poking a stick in the hornets' nest,

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


thought you were, but I was referring to Max and another person quoted in the article who's grandkids "ran for cover." Seriously? Like I said, histrionic much?

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Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 29, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Aaron is a registered user.

Menlo Voter:

Your "histrionic much" quip is really not a very nice thing to say. We don't know how old the grandchildren are, but we know that they're just kids. Lots of kids are terrified of loud noises, and if they hear them over and over, yeah, I could easily see my kids literally (not figuratively) running for cover.

You also don't know what people have experienced in their lives. I don't know Max's background, but I'm sure there are plenty of war veterans or war survivors who are pretty sensitive to loud noises and low flying plane engines. Since you don't know Max's situation, why would you say something like that? That's just rude and inconsiderate of a potential life experience that differs from yours. Be kinder and more empathetic towards your fellow humans!

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 30, 2014 at 6:44 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


with all due respect, I live under the flight pattern of Surfair flights. My office is in Redwood City under the approach to San Carlos where Surfair flights pass directly over head. They're simply not that loud.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarcastic-Reality
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:16 am

This is great. Next lets tackel those nasty loud freight trains that randomly barrel down train tracks. Maybee we could have the rail road build a noise canceling tunnel allong all of its tracks. So those who buy property near the tracks dont have to be disturbed. After thats done lets stop the ailen abductions with tinfoil under pants.... Serriously you live near an airport get over your bad selfs.

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Posted by Patrick
a resident of another community
on Oct 31, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I, too, work in a location under the traffic pattern of San Carlos airport. I simply don't think the noise is bad enough to make one run for cover, whatever that means. These residents are being a bunch of sissies, thinking that because they overpaid for a 1200 sq ft clapboard shack, they deserve a silent home. Lady, your kids are much louder that that aircraft. Trust me, I've seen them in Safeway...

Want a silent home? Pony up, sweetheart. There are plenty million-plus-dollar homes in the hills where there are no airports. Until then, you get to live with the decision to buy a home at the end of a runway. I'll bet your wondered why it was so cheap!

Like this comment
Posted by MC
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I don't know what these people were thinking when they bought their homes. They are literally right in the middle of the only transit corridor between N. California's two largest cities. It was never going to be quiet.

1 person likes this
Posted by Not convinced
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm

I live under the approach path for San Carlos Airport and frankly find the noise from late nigh freight trains and the occasional low flying 747 louder than the Surf Air planes. I think the complaints are way overblown and those complaining knew or should have known that airport noise comes with the territory on the Peninsula.

For decades there have been different planes and flight paths over the Peninsula. I'm sure most Atherton residents who lived in the area through the 60s, 70s and 80s P3- Orions flying out of Moffett field flew approach and departure patterns night and day over much of the Peninsula and South Bay. When it's stormy and the wind shifts heavy planes out of SFO depart over the Peninsula.

I'm sorry, but if you don't like the noise, move,

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