Eshoo's bills aim to lower volume on aircraft noise

Congresswoman proposes reforms to Federal Aviation Administration, re-opening of EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control

Responding to an upswell of concern from local residents about increasing airplane noise, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo on Nov. 6 unveiled a pair of bills that she said she hopes will restore some peace to local skies.

Both of Rep. Eshoo's bills propose reforms to the federal agencies charged with monitoring and mitigating airplane noise. One, known as the Quiet Community Act, would re-establish the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, which was created by Congress in 1972, and remained in effect before getting defunded in 1982 during the Reagan administration.

At that time, the White House argued that noise issues were best handled at the state or local government level, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Funding for the EPA office was phased out in 1992.

Rep. Eshoo's second proposed bill, known as the FAA Community Accountability Act, would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with local communities to limit noise impacts any time new flights are being planned or implemented.

Atherton City Council member Mike Lempres, who is one of the town's representatives on the San Francisco Airport/Community Roundtable, which focuses on airport noise, said, "Rep. Eshoo has done a great job of bringing attention to the problem of noise near airports and flight paths. Anything that brings attention to the problem helps," he said.

Mr. Lempres also serves on a working group focused on noise problems from the San Carlos Airport, the facility used by Surf Air planes; Surf Air has been the target of many Peninsula residents, including Atherton and Fair Oaks, complaining of a dramatic increase in noise during the last few years.

"Rep. Eshoo is absolutely right about the need to bring transparency to the FAA's noise measurement and abatement processes. The current FAA process does not work for residents," Mr. Lempres said.

Both proposed acts were prompted by the soaring number of complaints from local communities about the new flight plans recently implemented by the FAA as part of its transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen.

The effort, which aims to standardize arrival and departure routes through the use of GPS-based technologies, has created what residents say amounts to highway lanes over Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Woodside and other local communities, with flights now flying in greater numbers and at lower altitudes.

In August, the Palo Alto council passed a resolution requesting that the FAA mitigate the noise impacts of aircrafts caused by the project and that it immediately raise the altitude of all flight paths over the city and redesign flight paths so that "noise burden is borne equitably by all communities that benefit from air travel."

The resolution pointed to the steeply rising number of complaints submitted from Palo Alto residents to the San Francisco Airport Noise Abatement Office over the past year. The number went from 60 in June 2014 to 2,733 in June 2015. Other communities that are now seeing more airplane noise because of the redesigned path are Los Gatos and the Summit/Skyline area, according to the city's resolution.

Rep. Eshoo's proposed bills don't spell out a remedy for the airplane noise; instead, they propose new rules that would require both the FAA and the EPA to study the topic and consider mitigations.

According to Ms. Eshoo's announcement, the Quiet Community Act would restore the Office of Noise Abatement and Control and require the Administrator of the EPA to evaluate the effectiveness of FAA's noise-measurement methods, health impact thresholds and abatement programs.

The FAA Community Accountability Act would go a step further and require the FAA to "reconsider existing routes that are exposing residents to unacceptably high levels of aviation noise." This bill would also create a new community ombudsman in each FAA region to monitor the impact of NextGen implementation and make policy recommendations to the FAA and Congress.

In a statement, Rep. Eshoo said that because of NextGen, "constituents throughout my congressional district and our region are being subjected to increased jet engine noise."

"The bills I've introduced require the FAA to plan with communities when implementing NextGen, and restore the EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control which was defunded more than three years ago," said Rep. Eshoo, who is a founding member of the Quiet Skies Caucus. "With this legislation we can mitigate unacceptably high levels of aircraft noise, while continually modernizing our aviation system."

While Ms. Eshoo is pursuing the federal legislation, Palo Alto officials are moving ahead with their own efforts to gather information about the issue of airplane noise.

In late August, the City Council directed staff to issue a request for proposals for a technical study for analyzing aircraft noise over Palo Alto. The study will also include recommendations for reducing the noise.

Staff was directed to return to the council with results of the request for proposals by no later than the end of 2015.

Barbara Wood contributed to this report.

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7 people like this
Posted by ASAP
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:34 pm

I'm glad to hear that US Rep Anna Eshoo is following up on her promise to do something about the horrific noise the new flight routes are causing. I pray that something can be done quickly. The noise is harmful to our health and why on earth this wasn't considered by the FAA is a mystery--or a symptom of bureaucratic ineptitude and arrogance toward the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


not ineptitude. the FAA is entrusted with the duty of making flying SAFE. Noise isn't a factor if it interferes with the SAFETY of flight. I'll take safety over noise control any day.

Like this comment
Posted by Shawn
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 10, 2015 at 7:46 pm


No hyperbole here.

8 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 10, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Menlo Voter

The FAA refused to do anything about the noise issue and now its gone to Eshoo's desk. They should have been concerned or at least checked about this long before. The FAA obviously should be concerned about safety but also concern should be just as important toward the residents of the areas the flight noise impact. It is arrogance on the FAA's part to think those of us on the ground don't matter. It is arrogance to not respect the concerns of residents nearby and not lift a finger to resolve issues after they are brought forward. Congratulations to all those who put the work into getting Eshoo involved it the problem.

2 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 5:58 am

Please think back to your civics / social studies classes, at least the part you stayed awake for. The FAA is responsible for enforcing existing laws, not creating new ones. Surf Air does not violate any existing laws AFAIK.

If you want new laws, Rep. Eshoo is the right place to go, not the FAA.

12 people like this
Posted by JulieToo
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2015 at 6:35 am

JulieToo is a registered user.

Menlo Voter

Re your comment here:

"I'll take safety over noise control any day."

You should not have to choose between those two options.

We should have both.

8 people like this
Posted by 70s gal
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 11, 2015 at 9:24 am

If you live in San Bruno or SSF you expect airplane noise and constant sightings of huge aircraft above. SFO International airport is right there. If you live in Redwood City or San Carlos you never did expect any airplane noise except that propeller sound from the small planes that would take off and land at the San Carlos Airport. Flying lessons have been held here for years and the noise was never a concern.
Why are these monster airplanes allowed to be using San Carlos Airport? How many more of these companies will bloom here? Will surf air be the only one? No way.
Change happens good and bad, but people MUST speak up so that a majority is formed and the herd heads in the right direction.
The noise we hear from the jets new path over the hills as they turn towards SFO now is very loud and it really doesn't have to be this way.

3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

This sounds in part like another oxymoron -- we need more affordable housing but there's too much traffic on our streets and our schools are over crowded; I want the convenience of an airport but don't want the sound; I want to live near a school but don't want to hear the kids.

If you live in an expanding metro area like ours, there are increasing sounds every day as well as more traffic, not enough parking, etc. It's like the house that was built in the country. Everything thing was fine until one day the little house realized it was in the middle of the city and decided to move back to the country. Most of the Bay Area isn't country anymore.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 11, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

@julietoo: unfortunately, safety and noise control are often mutually exclusive. In fact, I'd hazard they are they way more often than not. So, as I said, I'll take safety over noise control.

3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 11, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


you are absolutely right. People want more flights, more convenient flight times and cheaper flights, but they want it without the attendant increase in noise. Can't have one without the other.

6 people like this
Posted by 70s gal
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 11, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Are we going to just keep expanding and bloating until we...explode? When does growth stop? When is a limit imposed? Never?
At what point should we try and rethink our options and decide that maybe there aren't any other options left - except to STOP? Let's figure out how to respectfully put a limit on the out of control growth that is happening all over our once lovely bay area.
I love it that Eshoo is at least trying something!

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 11, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

70s gal:

by all means, let's do "something." Who cares whether it is the right thing to do, but its "something."

Growth won't stop until we stop letting more people in this country.

6 people like this
Posted by johngslater
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm

As an engineer (who has read books on airplane design) I find it hard to believe there is a safety versus noise tradeoff. They can make much quieter airplanes, but the sophisticated engineering involved is not cheap.

An example is the Airbus A380. Yes, the huge one. You probably haven't noticed them, they are so quiet.

As long as someone can buzz-bomb me with noise, and doesn't have to compensate me for the irritation, there isn't any reason for airplane operators to use quieter planes.

The FAA does not regulate noise, nor do they make it easy for local governments to keep (noisy) planes from flying over your house.

Thank you Eshoo!

4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The FAA does not regulate noise"


"The FAA regulates the maximum noise level that an individual civil aircraft can emit through requiring aircraft to meet certain noise certification standards. Each noise certification standard is designated as a different Stage in the U.S. Stages and noise standards are defined in the Federal Aviation Regulations within the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 36 – Noise Standards: Aircraft Type and Airworthiness Certification (14 CFR Part 36). The FAA advisory circular on the Noise Levels for U.S Certificated and Foreign Aircraft provides noise level data for aircraft certificated under 14 CFR Part 36 and categorizes aircraft into their appropriate "stages". Any aircraft that is certified for airworthiness in the U.S. needs to also comply with noise standard requirements to receive a noise certification. The purpose of the noise certification process is to ensure that the latest available safe and airworthy noise reduction technology is incorporated into aircraft design and enables the noise reductions offered by those technologies to be reflected in reductions of noise experienced by communities. As noise reduction technology matures, the FAA works with the international community to determine if a new stringent noise standard is needed. If so, the international community embarks on a comprehensive analysis to determine what that new standard will be.
Currently, the FAA has aircraft standards up to Stage 4 (Chapter 4 internationally) for jet aircraft. The international community is looking to approve a more stringent standard in 2013 which the FAA will call Stage 5, which will be effective for new type certificates after December 31, 2017 and December 31, 2020, depending on the weight of the aircraft.
For helicopters, the FAA currently has a standard for Stage 2, but is currently working to adopt the latest international standards, called Stage 3. We hope to issue a final rule on Stage 3 helicopters in early 2014.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, in Section 513, had a prohibition on operating certain aircraft weighing 75,000 pounds or less not complying with Stage 3 noise levels, and on July 2, 2013, the FAA published a Final Rule in the Federal Register for the Adoption of Statutory Prohibition the Operation of Jets Weighing 75,000 Pounds or Less That Are Not Stage 3 Noise Compliant. In 1990, Congress passed the Aviation Noise and Capacity Act, which required that by the year 2000 all jet aircraft at civilian airports be Stage 3 aircraft."

3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 11, 2015 at 7:50 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Damn it Peter! There you go posting FACTS again.

Like this comment
Posted by republican thinker
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:12 pm

republican thinker is a registered user.

SFO International Airport is a business. Their business is making money and serving the metropolitan area with as many flights as are demanded by the customers (flying public). The airport has lobbied long and hard to reduce delays and therefore bring in as much business as possible. More airlines = more flights = more money (and jobs, packages, seafood, whatever). The FAA's job is to safely move the flights into and out of the airports but cannot restrict commerce and has no control over schedules, volume, etc. With that in mind, and understanding that the market drives the airline schedules (if no one flies, airlines will cancel the flights), are we our own enemies? The San Francisco Bay area is booming. People will drive across the bridges and around the Bay to get to SFO to take advantage of an abundance of cheap flights. OAK and SJC have been begging for business with empty terminals and parking garages. Will more government regulations improve business and the economy in this region? What standard can be use for "excessive noise"? Has anyone thought this through? Where should the flights go? Should they be over open space where you go to hike and get away from noise? Should they be over schools? Should they be over the poor people's homes because they do not have the resources to fund their local politicians? Should there be no flights at night making it impossible to meet gate agreements in foreign countries? Should you wait on the tarmac for hours because noise restrictions make the airport less efficient? There are many factors contributing to this issue and everyone wants the FAA to fix it... As mentioned above, the FAA has set standards for engine noise and the standards have consistently been met. Today's aircraft are far more quiet than DC-9s, B707s, B727s, etc. If the aircraft and the flights do not exceed any sort of legal level of noise impact, but you can see them, is this justification for moving them over someone else's house? Are Bay Area housing costs being affected, really? All I see is home values going up and up and no one who works here can afford to rent or buy. I don't know the answer, but the issue is far more complex than most folks want to believe - I'm not sure a realistic attitude isn't better than asking the government to resolve a situation created by good business practices that work for all that need to get somewhere.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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