Atherton: Group to grapple with aircraft noise | November 27, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - November 27, 2013

Atherton: Group to grapple with aircraft noise

by Renee Batti

Guaranteed: The snappy response to someone living close to San Francisco International or any other major airport who complains about increased jet noise will be, "What did you expect when you moved near an airport?" But should communities situated under the flight path of a relatively tiny, public-use facility that accommodates small aircraft be expected to accept a significant noise increase because of new commercial use of the airport?

That's a question under review by residents and public officials of Atherton and nearby communities, along with officials from the San Carlos Airport and Surf Air, a new commercial flight service operating from that facility.

But a more urgent question is: Can safe and efficient measures be put in place to mitigate noise from daily flights by Surf Air, an "all-you-can-fly" membership air service that began flying in and out of the county-owned airport in June?

A working group that includes Atherton Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and councilman-elect Rick DeGolia, San Carlos Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly, Surf Air officials, a representative of county Supervisor Warren Slocum's office, and residents mainly from Atherton and North Fair Oaks will try to tackle that question in coming months.

The Atherton City Council directed staff to form the group at its Nov. 20 meeting after hearing from about a dozen residents affected by the rise in aircraft noise, which is certain to become even more problematic when Surf Air increases its daily flights into the airport from six to 10 early next month.

Mayor Lewis and Mr. DeGolia have already met twice with airport, Surf Air, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, along with representatives of a residents' group, to address the problem.

As a result of the growing number of noise complaints, Surf Air officials have already put in place several measures, including keeping the aircraft's gear and wing flaps up, and flying faster over the affected areas, but residents have reported that the change in noise level is indiscernible.

Surf Air not alone

Surf Air launched its service this summer with flights to Burbank and Santa Barbara, and next month will add Hawthorne and Palm Springs to the service, according to Cory Cozzens, Surf Air's co-founder and senior vice president. But although Surf Air is taking the heat over the increase in noise from its fleet of Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop aircraft, it's not the only service flying the planes in and out of San Carlos, he noted.

Ms. Kelly, the airport's manager, confirmed that both Jato Aviation and Diamond Aviation commercial flight services also fly the PC-12; all planes use the same flight path, which roughly parallels El Camino Real from the south. She said the airport accommodates 15 to 20 PC-12 flights daily, including Surf Air's six flights, with the heaviest traffic over the weekend.

Aircraft approach San Carlos from the south at about 3,900 feet around Moffett Field, dropping to 2,000 feet over Palo Alto, she said. "In areas where we've had complaints so far, they're descending, generally, (to) around 1,300 to 1,600 feet."

Different flight path?

With Surf Air poised to increase flights next month and further expand to areas such as Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and Monterey in the future, residents told the council that something must change in the planes' approach to the airport to address noise and safety issues.

One Atherton resident told the council that he's lived in his home for 28 years, and has heard planes fly overhead from the beginning. "But this is a different kind of sound; this is a different kind of an airplane," he said.

Others spoke of not being able to be outside their homes because of the noise, and several voiced safety concerns. The flight path crosses over Encinal Elementary School in Atherton, and, according to several North Fair Oaks residents, there are a number of homes providing child care services in the area.

A Holbrook Lane resident noted that the planes have one engine, "and if that engine (shuts down), the plane becomes ... a low-quality glider" whose pilot might find the best emergency landing site to be a school yard.

Although he acknowledges residents' concerns over noise, Mr. Cozzens of Surf Air asserted that PC-12 aircraft have a "tremendous" safety record, and because of that and its ease of flying, it's known in the aviation world as a "pilot's aircraft."

Surf Air also exceeds FAA pilot requirements for aircraft like the PC-12, he said, operating with a captain and first officer. The company has chosen to put into place "requirements that are the same as or very close to the requirements of larger carriers and commercial airlines," he said.

The working group will draft a proposal to the FAA asking it to study a second flight path into San Carlos Airport that would allow planes to avoid flying over neighborhoods. Mayor Lewis told the Almanac that the approach could possibly be redirected over U.S. 101, but noted that the town doesn't want the air traffic pushed over into other neighborhoods. A flight path change, however, could take more than two years, she said, so other possible solutions will be studied by the group.


Posted by concerned neighbor, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Surf Air is increasing the number of flights into San Carlos from other Airports to 20 per day effective December 9th. That's 20 inbound and 20 outbound per day. Go to their web site and look under schedule. San Carlos Airport was designed as a general aviation airport not for Commercial Airlines. At 10,000 lbs with a 53 ft. wingspan on a single engine aircraft there should be concern about noise and Safety. According to Surf Air they can operate as many flights as they want into San Carlos, first 4, then 6, then 10, now 20, then unlimited.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I just saw and Heard that plane this morning, That is one noisy airplane and I wasn't anywhere close to being underneath it. Perhaps a bay approach to Petes Harbor would help.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 30, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Surfair can operate as many flights into San Carlos as the air traffic control system will allow. The approach path is unlikely to change, at least for instrument approaches. They are designed for maximum safety and terrain avoidance.

Mr. Stogner: I'm not sure what plane you were hearing, but in my experience the Beechcraft King Air that operates in and out of San Carlos is much noisier than the Surfair Pilatus.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I am 95% sure it was a Pilatus I saw this am, I was surprised by the noise I heard so I looked up to get a good look at it. It wasn't until I looked at their website to see what they were flying, same, I was at Backyard Coffee on Brewster by the tracks. I agree with you about B.King Air. I'm a pro pilot/plane and airport guy,

Posted by Resident, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 30, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I've heard the King Air and the Pilatus. The King Air is much quieter.

Surf Air has 350 active members and 6000 on the waiting list. They could fly around the clock and not accommodate the demand. Picture 40 or 50 flights a day into San Carlos.

The runway at San Carlos is 2500 feet long and 75 feet wide. The wing span on the Pilatus is over 53 feet. Not much room for error.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 30, 2013 at 9:03 pm


the runway has plenty of room to land a Pilatus.

Landing distance over 15 m (50 ft) obstacle: 558 m (1,830 ft)
Landing distance ground roll: 228 m (945 ft)This means the landing distance if they aren't landing over a 50 ft. obstacle, which they are not at San Carlos. Plenty of room at San Carlos.

A Pilatus is a turbine driven propeller aircraft. As such it can reverse the thrust of its propeller and land in very short distances.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 30, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Resident: I beg to differ on the noise signature of the two aircraft. I have both aircraft overfly my home on a regular basis. I can identify each one without looking. The Pilatus is noticeably quieter.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 1, 2013 at 2:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"public-use facility that accommodates small aircraft be expected to accept a significant noise increase because of new commercial use of the airport?"

This premise is wrong. A public use airport by definition includes commercial use. For example, all pilot training is commercial use. News helicopters are commercial use.
AS noted many, many times before this airport has accepted FAA Airport Improvement Grants for years and with each grant the airport agreed to further extend its long term commitment to remain open to all aircraft that can safely operate from this airport.

The solution is not with the FAA or the airport but with SunAir and there is only so much that they can do - all the noise will not go away.

IF you are really interested in what can be done go to this excellent web site and read about the Palo Alto Airport Joint Community Relation Committee, on which I served for 20 years with ten years as chair, and read the 2004 JCRC Report to the Palo Alto City Council contained on that page. And then email me if you are still interested in hard work to make small changes.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 1, 2013 at 2:36 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the PAO JCRC web site:

Web Link

Here is the 2004 JCRC report to the City Council

2004 JCRC Report to the Palo Alto City Council

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