Spurred by outrage over airplane noise from residents of the Midpeninsula, the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to the formation of a new committee aimed at giving critics a louder voice in future negotiations over plane routes and flight altitudes.
The FAA discussed the new committee at a March 7 meeting in Los Altos, which featured elected leaders from Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and members of the grassroots group Sky Posse, which has been leading the local effort to abate airplane noise.
The issue became urgent in the past year, as the FAA has implemented its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program in March 2015. The program concentrated flights along particular corridors, creating what some residents have described as "super highways" over their heads.
The creation of the new group, known as the FAA Select Committee, is the first substantive action that the FAA has agreed to undertake since November, when it agreed to take a fresh look at flight speeds, altitudes and waypoint locations as part of a new "three-phased initiative."
It remains to be seen whether the group will wield any actual influence over the federal agency.
The new committee will have 12 members, four from each of the three congressional districts in the area (the districts currently represented by Anna Eshoo, Sam Farr and Jackie Speier). Members will be picked by each congressional office.
Ian Gregor, the FAA's public affairs manager for the Pacific Division, said the new committee will focus mainly on issues beyond the scope of the SFO Roundtable, which will review and comment on areas at and near the airport.
Gregor said the SFO Roundtable will provide administrative support for the new group.
FAA officials indicated that the agency's feasibility study for potential changes to NextGen routes will be out in six weeks.
Many residents in attendance at the March 7 meeting voiced skepticism about the new committee. Some complained about the FAA's failure to notify anyone in advance about the committee's creation or to seek input.
Jennifer Landesmann, a Sky Posse member who attended the meeting in Los Altos, said that criticism from communities about NextGen have put pressure on the federal administration to improve its community-outreach practices.
"The FAA has failed miserably with the implementation of NextGen," Landesmann said. "They are on the hot seat for failing to deal with the communities in an appropriate way. The Bay Area is supposedly going to be an example on how to deal with communities. If they fail us, they will once again be on the hot seat."
Other residents offered personal anecdotes about loud flights soaring over their homes at all hours of the day and night. A resident of Crescent Park in Palo Alto said that just that morning, when she was out her garden, loud planes were passing over head every two to three minutes. Another spoke of the midnight and 1:30 a.m. flights that pass over her house. A third complained about a "real degradation of the quality of life because of the noise."
Resident Mark Shull said the main problem that residents have with NextGen is that planes "fly over the same houses every single time."
"That is new as of March last year," Shull said. "And it's not just one route, which cities around the country are complaining about, it is three converging in one place. And there's almost no place in the country that has as much convergence as we do."