News

Update - Surf Air: New flight path will avoid Midpeninsula

Route could be flown only with good visibility

Update This story has been updated with the following information:

At the request of the Almanac, San Carlos Airport Assistant Airport Manager Chris St. Peter examined weather records for the last year at the airport. He said that in 2015, aircraft would have been able to arrive at the airport using only a visual approach slightly more than 86 percent of the time.

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Surf Air representatives say they have identified an alternative flight path that would put their planes, and the noise of their turboprop engines, over the Bay during much of their approach to the San Carlos Airport whenever they have clear visibility.

If all goes well, they say, the new approach could be in regular operation by the end of May.

On Tuesday, April 26, Jim Sullivan, Surf Air's senior vice president of operations, showed the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors a map with a route that would take Surf Air planes from Moffett Field over the Bay, past the Dumbarton Bridge and then back to the San Carlos Airport over a cement plant.

Mr. Sullivan's presentation was part of an undate for the supervisors from the county's public works director, Jim Porter, on what the county is calling the "San Carlos Airport Aircraft Disturbance Study." The supervisors approved the study in March.

Surf Air began using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, and complaints about noise from the turboprop planes the airline uses began flooding in soon after.

Mr. Sullivan said the airline has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration's Northern California air traffic control branch, known as Norcal TRACON. They are trying to find a way to move the commuter airline's planes away from the neighborhoods where residents say the noise has been making their lives miserable.

"I really do believe this is the meaningful relief that we've all been looking for," Mr. Sullivan said on Tuesday, before catching a Surf Air plane from the San Carlos Airport back to work at Surf Air's Santa Monica headquarters.

He said he personally piloted the Bay approach last week and believes it will work. He plans to have Surf Air's "check pilots," the pilots who train other pilots, fly the approach 25 times, starting immediately, when they fly into San Carlos.

"By having multiple pilots look at it multiple times" any problems can be found and the route modified, he said.

Surf Air will then train all its pilots to use the approach, and Norcal TRACON will inform the control towers in all the local airports, including San Jose, Moffett Field, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Carlos, about the new approach, Mr. Sullivan said.

The route won't provide complete relief to those who live under the current flight path because, Mr. Sullivan said, it can only be used under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions. That means that if pilots can't see the airport from the point at which they start the approach, which is near Sunnyvale, the current GPS approach will continue to be used, he said. Rainy or foggy days can limit that visibility.

At the request of the Almanac, San Carlos Airport Assistant Airport Manager Chris St. Peter examined weather records for the last year at the airport. He said that in 2015, aircraft would have been able to arrive at the airport using only a visual approach slightly more than 86 percent of the time.

Mr. Porter told the supervisors that the county has hired three consultants: an aviation consultant, an aviation noise consultant and a polling firm. "We're looking at policies and procedures," he said, including surveying what other general aviation airports do.

"We're also potentially looking at landing fees," he said, including software to help with that process. He said the county is also examining incentives for those who follow the airport's voluntary noise abatement rules.

He said a public meeting will be scheduled in the near future to give residents a chance to talk about how they are affected by the airport operations, and local residents will also be surveyed. A set of recommendations are scheduled to come back to the supervisors in June.

"We are working diligently to make that schedule," Mr. Porter said.

Atherton City Council member Mike Lempres asked the county to get residents more involved in the process.

"The residents of Atherton and North Fair Oaks have not yet been consulted in this process," he said. And despite Mr. Sullivan's assertion that Surf Air had begun flying most of its planes over U.S. 101 on April 12, Mr. Lempres said residents "have not noticed any change."

Other speakers said that since Surf Air is working to solve the problem on its own, the county should halt the study. "We ask that you postpone further action or expenditure" until the planned changes are put in place, said Carol Ford of the airport's pilots' association.

But supervisors said they want the study to continue as scheduled. "We need to hear from the public," said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier. "Are they not hearing the noise anymore?" she said. Are the changes "really working for them?"

"This isn't to punish the pilots or the people at the airport," she said.

Supervisor Dave Pine agreed. "It's important we keep this study going," he said. He, too, emphasized that the study is not aimed at the majority of the airport's users. "The impetus of this has been commercial aircraft, primarily Surf Air," he said.

After the meeting Mr. Lempres praised the county and others who have become involved in working to resolve noise issues, especially congressional representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier.

However, he said, "it's hard for me to judge whether anything is being done or not. They continue to have a process that does not involve the residents. Hopefully we're going to be part of the process going forward."

North Fair Oaks resident and attorney Adam Ullman, who has been researching the issue for years, said he is happy "to finally see the county supervisors taking proactive steps to fulfill their legal obligations to mitigate the continuous and pervasive noise nuisance from aircraft over our community."

"Airplanes louder than 757s, 777s and 787s should never have been allowed to be as low as a thousand feet over our homes and schools," he said.

Mr. Sullivan said he believes the new Bay approach "really captures all the concerns of the community and leaders of the community, and the airport."

"We are excited that the group has finally come together and rolled up their sleeves and said how do we fix this," he said.

Comments

35 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Atherton residents have been asking the FAA to change Surfair's route for over three years, and nothing happens until the Surfair asks the FAA to change the route, then by some magical process, that happens behind closed doors, the route gets changed.

Then the FAA and the airline try to tell the residents "move along folks, nothing to see here".

Atherton City Councilman Mike Lempres demonstrates a clear understanding of the danger of the FAA's opaque process when he laments: "They continue to have a process that does not involve the residents".

Aviation works like an old-boys club. If you are Jim Sullivan or Gretchen Kelly, you are part of the FAA's club, and you get access, and action... if not, you just get excuses.

Surfair's approach route may be fixed (we'll see), but the FAA's process is still broken.


20 people like this
Posted by Tosh
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 29, 2016 at 4:02 pm

The aviation club has great perks, if you can afford the membership fees. GA airports are a nice soft point of entry for all sorts of lucrative contraband. Definitely not a good idea to have a bunch of residents and local politicians poking around the operation.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 29, 2016 at 6:18 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

tosh:

I'll bet lot's of the Surfair passengers are smuggling contraband. Riiiiiight. @@


2 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Apr 29, 2016 at 7:58 pm

These comments are hilarious. SurfAir is under zero obligation to do anything. They don't set the flight paths. Despite that, they managed to work out a solution that's exactly what people were whining for... and it's still not good enough!

Just proves what I've said all along: it's not about airplane noise, it's about a misguided and completely wrong assumption that SurfAir customers are super rich interlopers.

Competely bogus.


11 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2016 at 12:49 am

Matt,

Thanks for helping me make my point. The residents of Atherton have been told for close to three years now that neither SurfAir, SCL Airport management, or the TRACON in Sacramento has the ability to set the flight paths. So, how were SurfAir VP Sullivan, Airport manager Kelly, and the Sacramento TRACON able to "work out" a solution?


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2016 at 6:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" The residents of Atherton have been told for close to three years now that neither SurfAir, SCL Airport management, or the TRACON in Sacramento has the ability to set the flight paths."

Wrong - It has been consistently pointed out that the County had zero ability to fix this problem and that the only solution for different flight paths in VFR conditions was to work with, guess who, SurfAir. And then SurfAir would coordinate what it proposed to do with the FAA.

That is EXACTLY what happened regardless of all the people rushing on board to take credit for what SurfAir has done.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2016 at 9:27 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Amazing. Surfair does exactly what they've been asked to, yet still folks criticize. Tells me it's not really about noise at all.

Jetman: The folks you mention DON'T have the ability to set flight paths. They never did. That hasn't changed. Only the FAA can do that and only the FAA did it in this case. You can thank Surfair for asking the FAA to make the change. You're welcome.


7 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Peter,

For the sake of argument, let's say you are right:

"...the County had zero ability to fix this problem and that the only solution for different flight paths in VFR conditions was to work with, guess who, SurfAir. And then SurfAir would coordinate what it proposed to do with the FAA."

Please explain why San Mateo County, which owns and operates the the airport, and represents the people of San Mateo County, needs to work through a small, and almost insignificant private commercial airline like SurfAir, in order to work with an agency of the federal government?


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Because under VFR conditions in the Bay Area SurfAir is operating in controlled airspace and its movements are therefore controlled by FAA rules not by County rules.

SurfAir devised a VFR flight path that has minimal interference with PAO traffic and which minimizes its low altitude flight time over populated areas.

The FAA reviewed SurfAir's and concurred with SurfAir that this was a workable flight path.

The County had nothing to do with this except trying to gain credit for what SurfAir had done.


Like this comment
Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 1, 2016 at 9:49 pm

The FAA is a federal entity. San Carlos Airport accepts federal funds to support its operations. Therefore it must abide by the FAA / Federal rules. FAA says it's concern is safety and not noise / pollution. It does appear there is some progress taking shape from the article. For the sake of residential quality of life and protection I welcome who is helping. I do like Jetman and agree FAA does not seem neighborhood friendly per se.


4 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Update - Today (5/16/16) the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled for the City of Santa Monica and against the Federal Aviation Administration in the City's lawsuit to establish its right to control use of the land now occupied by the Santa Monica Airport.


"Santa Monica Airport: One Step Closer to Local Control"
AIReform ~ May 17, 2016 Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 17, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The court decision only allows the case to go to trial - it does not rule on the merits of the case.


Like this comment
Posted by Non believer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 30, 2016 at 9:24 pm

Surf air still flying low over west Menlo towards Atherton on final San Carlos approach May 30 @ 6:00pm
They aren't trying very hard to re route over Moffett....of course SM Supervisors don't care when it's 3 day weekend...


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm


Is this a required flight path as Ameba was?

Is it set up for a flight path on IFR days?

We're still getting over flights on Ameba, same as before, albeit less,

It will be interesting when they double their inbound flights, How many will be over Ameba and how many over the bay approach?


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 1, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

resident:

it's the AMEBY approach and they must fly AMEBY in IFR weather. In my experience overflights have decreased. That tells me they are flying the alternate approved approach. They will not be able to fly that approach in IFR conditions.


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

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