Advocates sharply disagree on solutions to airplane noise

FAA Select Committee to discuss the many questions, ideas surrounding issue

Residents throughout the Midpeninsula and Santa Cruz area agree that airplanes going to San Francisco International Airport are creating deafening noise overhead, but multiple advocacy groups have very differing views on how to fix the problem.

More than 675 people turned out for the meeting Wednesday night of The Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, which is comprised of county and city officials from the San Francisco Peninsula and tasked with addressing the airplane noise issue and reviewing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal to change flight routes, altitude and other local flight procedures.

The Select Committee does not have any power, but it could potentially support the FAA's Northern California Initiative Feasibility Study or provide other recommendations for cutting airplane noise. The problem of increased noise began in 2015 after the FAA rolled out its NextGen program to modernize the nation's air-traffic system.

The FAA proposal came out of recommendations from local airplane-noise groups and incorporates recommendations the agency deems feasible. The study analyzed six categories: airspace design and airspace; adjusting arrival procedures; nighttime departure operations; developing new departure transit points for some nighttime flights; evaluating Oakland and San Francisco departures and improving management of aircraft by flight control.

Packing the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, residents told the committee about hundreds of low-flying planes and the impact the noise has daily and at all hours on their health and mental well-being. While residents from as far away as Santa Cruz and from up and down the Midpeninsula agreed that increased airplane noise has made their lives miserable, they were not united in how the problem should be fixed.

Residents from Santa Cruz and the mountains want a flight path that was moved directly overhead to shift back to where it was prior to the rollout of NextGen. Midpeninsula groups, including Palo Alto, want the flights dispersed over a wider region and at higher elevations.

A Palo Alto noise group, Sky Posse, told the committee that the FAA plan offers "zero" tangible benefits for Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. The group wants alternative flight paths, mainly using the entire length of San Francisco Bay so that planes would fly over water instead of homes.

Quiet Skies Mid-Peninsula, which is comprised largely of cities that include Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Ladera, Redwood City, parts of Woodside and Portola Valley, also favors the dispersal of flight paths. That group noted that half of the flights now are "vectored," meaning they fly in a holding pattern as they wait to land.

The Midpeninsula group also supported Palo Alto's assertion that the FAA plan offers solutions for only some communities and not for all.

"The Bay Area is not only where we live. The Bay Area is a way of life. Noise is a priority. There should be no sacrificial noise corridors," Quiet Skies Mid-Peninsula representative Tammy Mulcahey said.

Sky Posse and Quiet Skies Mid-Peninsula also proposed a permanent technical working group to measure noise on the ground.

But Quiet Skies NorCal, a group with a large Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz mountains contingent, does not favor dispersal at any elevation. They said that FAA must return to the previous flight path over Big Sur, which brings flights in over land farther to the south. They argued that the new path is essentially an easement in the sky over their neighborhoods -- which by law is in essence a taking of property that is impacting well-being, one Santa Cruz resident noted.

The rift between the various groups was apparent in a strongly worded statement by the NorCal group. It blasted Mid-Pen's letter, saying it is "either technically impossible or morally wrong." The Mid-Peninsula group opposes the NorCal group's plan to move the flight path back to Big Sur.

Quiet Skies Woodside said that the narrowing of flight paths and the oceanic arrivals between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. have disrupted their sleep. One-third of all vectored flights on the new flight path over the Santa Cruz mountains fly over Woodside, they said.

Select Committee members said they have several questions they want the FAA to answer before they can make any recommendations. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the Select Committee chairman, said he wants the FAA to identify some of the problems the agency deemed not feasible and to explore solutions. He and other members supported a Sky Posse and Mid-Peninsula proposal to bring in a group of technical experts who handle SFO flights to guide the committee while it studies the FAA plan and some of the noise groups' alternatives. He and others asked the FAA to consider a permanent committee to address the noise issues over time.

Town of Los Altos Hills Councilman Gary Waldeck asked if a 90-day trial period of any implemented plan might be possible. He and others also want the FAA to come up with ways to measure the noise on the ground.

"The (NextGen) model has never been tested against real data," he said, noting that noise specifications the FAA used for its NextGen model were developed in the 1970s and are now considered obsolete.

"I don't know how FAA has done that with a straight face," he said.

He also favored a long-range approach.

"We're not going to solve all of these problems in a six-question answer," he said. Rather, "it's a lot like build a little, and test a little," he said.

City of Foster City Councilman Sam Hindi said he wants the FAA to clarify what would happen if the Santa Cruz mountains route is moved back over Big Sur.

"Obviously, our community is divided," he said.

(The City of Palo Alto, which now has three flight paths over the city, does not have a representative as one of the 12 principal committee members. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff does sit as an alternate, however.)

So many people wanted to give their opinions at the meeting that the stack of speaker cards was more than two inches thick. Andres Diaz of Mountain View said the FAA report is written from a "big data" perspective that does not account for the individual's experience.

"Ask yourselves whether it seems appropriate that a plan would allow flights at 1,900 feet. That's just one example. Think of the individual as well as the entire community," he said.

Other residents said they no longer get eight hours of sleep a night.

"Now I'm lucky if I can get 2 1/2 hours, and that's every single friggin' day," a Santa Cruz area resident said.

Another complained that the flight changes had been made without residents' input.

"To not be heard ahead of time (before FAA implemented the plan), I feel like it's eminent domain without any compensation," the woman added.

The Select Committee will reconvene to take stock of all of Wednesday night's information. The first of two working meetings will take place July 15 and 22 in the afternoon at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. The time has yet to be determined. The meetings will be open to the public, but because they are working meetings, the public will not be allowed to speak.


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1 person likes this
Posted by hiker
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jul 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

This is an important topic for those of us experiencing the increase in jet/airplane noise. The above article is also posted at Palo Alto Weekly Online. There are 34 comments following the article. Several are quite informative.

Like this comment
Posted by hiker
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jul 2, 2016 at 10:56 am

Meant to include the link to their town square: Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 2, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"deafening noise"? Seriously? Hyperbolic much?

4 people like this
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Congress members are deflecting responsibility. Congress passed legislation in 2012, FAA Modernization and Reform Act, that permitted the FAA to implement NextGen procedures without any regard to their impact on humans and the environment. The Wake Recategorization or Wake Recat procedure is the key to our misery. Aircraft are brought low into denser air so they can be flown slower and closer together resulting in the skies above communities near and far from airports having been taken over as arrival and departure queues. And if there are new concentrated flight paths, don't confuse that with fewer concentrated flights paths. These concentrated flight paths are proliferating as the goals to date that Congress, the FAA, and aviation industry are primarily concerned about are more and more flights, increasing capacity endlessly, and quicker frequency of arrivals and departures, increasing efficiency. Human health and the environment are being sacrificed for the goals and for an abstract term, the economy. What economy really means with NextGen procedures is industry profits and elected officials who ensure those profits keeping their political office. What it means for citizens is committees, roundtables, task forces, noise studies, noise complaints, initiatives, reports, surveys, and so on until citizens are worn down into silence and acquiesce to the air, noise, and visual pollution of 24/7 low altitude aircraft all over our skies. Furthermore, the ultimate strategy of elected officials, FAA representatives, and this industry is to pit groups against each other, make them fight each other for non-solutions, crumbs, and discredit themselves in the process and then say, Well, sorry but we don't seem to be able to come up with a regional solution. And yet they rig it from the start by telling different groups to come up with solutions.

Groups must stand together and not get played liked this. The industry has the money and too many officials are bought. But we have numbers and when we use the power of those numbers we can't be stopped. This is not the last opportunity to be heard. It's just the last of the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals meetings which have been limited in scope and duration. It is not a solution for, in FAA speak, the NorCal Metroplex. Keep fighting, together!

Like this comment
Posted by Tired of Cronyism
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen and County Executive Isiah Leggett July 13, 2016 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is the strongest one yet. Here's the link to the letter

Web Link

We need more elected officials to step up like this... Then hopefully we'll see more action to stop the suffering and less talk and studies and data collection ad nauseam. In short, no more stalling tactics. Do the right thing and put people before profits!

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Asking the FAA to go back to the way things were is a very bad idea. There is more traffic now and using the old patterns will create even more ground level noise.

PLEASE let's get everyone to advocate a "FAITH and ANETE at 7000 ft as the ONLY acceptable approach to SFO.

Web Link

1 - All SFO inbound traffic from the North and the East must use the RNAV (GPS) X RWY 28R approach and must enter that approach at the ANETE Initial Approach Fix (IAF) for which the minimum crossing altitude is 7000 ft

Alternatively these aircraft could us the ILS or LOC RWY 28R approach and must enter at ARCHI IAF for which the minimum crossing altitude is 7000 ft,

2 - All SFO inbound traffic from the South and the West must use the RNAV (GPS) X RWY 28L approach and must enter that approach at the Faith IAF which has a minimum crossing altitude of 7000 ft.

Entry to this approach via MENLO intersection would not be permitted.

Alternatively these aircraft could us the ILS or LOC RWY 28L approach and must enter at the FAITH IAF for which the minimum crossing altitude is 7000 ft

Entry to this approach via MENLO intersection would not be permitted.

3 - SFO and SJC must be landing in the same direction unless the wind differential between them is greater than 1o knots.

This proposal uses existing and established waypoints and procedures and does not impinge on the SJC airspace.

Like this comment
Posted by Quiet and Proud
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2016 at 9:04 am

See Palo Alto Online's article by this title which has over 200 comments

Web Link

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

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