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Guest commentary: Progress is being made in fight against commercial jet noise

A jet takes off from San Diego International Airport in March 2020.
A jet takes off from San Diego International Airport in March 2020.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Commercial jet noise adversely impacts cardiovascular and cognitive health, especially through repetitive concentrated exposure. Quiet Skies San Diego has been fighting to address this problem since 2017, when the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Gen Southern California Metroplex was implemented, concentrating flights on single departure and arrival paths, adversely affecting all coastal communities near the San Diego airport.

This is an update on our progress with the FAA and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. There is good news to report. First, significant noise mitigation may be implemented in Ocean Beach by instituting vertical takeoff thrust parameters. Second, a new waypoint further offshore for nighttime northbound departures, rather than along the coast off La Jolla, has been submitted for FAA approval. Third, there is a path forward to better daytime noise mitigation by dispersing and flying planes farther offshore to protect the coastal communities to the north and south.

For the record:

8:36 a.m. Sept. 8, 2021This article has been updated to correct Rep. Scott Peters’ email address.

We reached a settlement in our litigation with SDCRAA in which our interests are understood and recognized, alignment with SDCRAA and the FAA is feasible, and the FAA may be amenable to solutions that protect the health of people and communities near airports. Your voices, financial support and air-noise complaints have been vital to these achievements.

Please continue filing commercial jet noise complaints. It is imperative that San Diego residents continue making their voices heard to SDCRAA when bothered by commercial jet noise. Change will come only if the FAA and SDCRAA are cognizant of citizen unrest and agitation over excessive jet noise. The simplest way to file complaints is to use an air-noise complaint button (airnoise.io) that enables users to automatically file an official noise complaint with SDCRAA with only a single wireless button press.

The number of complaints, the number of separate households complaining and the geographic dispersion of complaints are the key data drivers. The button’s software immediately searches for and identifies the commercial aircraft in closest proximity to your location, collects the necessary information from the plane’s transponder and automatically files your complaint with the SDCRAA Noise Office in real time.

You also may use the SDCRAA website (san.org/Airport-Authority), which takes much more time and effort.

Additionally, you may make your views known to SDCRAA at sknack@san.org or rlanyak@san.org and to U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (scott.peters@mail.house.gov).

The FAA also has established an aviation noise ombudsman program in which individual ombudsmen serve as public liaisons for issues about aircraft noise and complaints. Ivan Gutierrez, Southern California’s FAA ombudsman, can be reached at 9-awp-noise@faa.gov or (424) 405-8020. Send him emails to ensure that he is aware of San Diego’s concerns.

Further information is available at quietskieslajolla.org or by emailing info@quietskieslajolla.org.

Part 150 Study results

The FAA and SDCRAA’s “Part 150 Study” was completed in the spring, with recommendations to study and implement vertical noise mitigation methods for Ocean Beach, Liberty Station and Loma Portal that would restrict jet thrust until planes are farther from the airport.

SDCRAA is studying a noise abatement departure procedure (NADP) that is based on a success at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, limiting vertical takeoff thrust until planes are beyond residential areas unless safety is jeopardized. This is a positive step forward for those living in the biggest impact zone directly around the airport, but it would do nothing for those close by in Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla and Point Loma and may actually increase noise in those areas unless accompanied by the noise dispersion measures discussed below.

Bird Rock waypoint for nighttime departures: In a greater win for Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla, SDCRAA advanced a proposal to the FAA to mitigate nighttime noise on northern departures by routing planes farther offshore between 10 and 11:30 p.m. via a new Bird Rock waypoint. Planes on this route would be required to fly farther offshore before turning north. Limitations preclude its implementation during daytime hours, which means the noise dispersion alternatives discussed below must be considered. It may take the FAA several years to review and implement the proposed Bird Rock waypoint change, but the proposal has been submitted.

Dispersion solutions and making better use of the ocean: Dispersion of departing and arriving flights is the antidote to the concentration caused by the NextGen Metroplex implementation in 2017 in which all planes fly on a densely concentrated path. That noise concentration is devastating to the cardiac and cognitive health of people living in communities experiencing repetitive doses of aircraft noise, whether they live directly under the flight paths or in the surrounding communities.

SDCRAA declined to advance several very favorable Part 150 Study noise dispersion alternatives that were recommended by airport noise consultants. The first principles underlying the proposals were flying planes farther out over the ocean before turning left or right to keep the noise further offshore, and alternating departure paths to disperse the noise so that every flight does not fly over the same community for 18 hours every day.

The proposals were declined based on demonstrably inaccurate assumptions and forecasts of future flight operations and population growth in impacted areas. SDCRAA concluded that there was an unproven hypothetical chance that these alternatives would shift noise from one house or neighborhood to another and that literally a shift by one household was enough to disqualify the solution, although it would benefit tens of thousands of other residents.

However, as a result of the Quiet Skies v. SDCRAA litigation, SDCRAA agreed to reconsider the alternatives and their underlying forecasts in five years’ time to evaluate whether the proposals made in 2021 are in fact viable.

Airport Development Plan

By settling our case with SDCRAA, we removed an impediment to the Airport Development Plan construction. It is still an open question whether $3 billion-plus in taxpayer money should be spent on expanding San Diego International Airport, let alone adding 19 new gates. We will continue to urge SDCRAA to critically evaluate whether adding 19 gates makes sense in today’s travel and climate circumstances.

The best way to achieve meaningful change is to work with the FAA and SDCRAA, and we look forward to doing so. We also thank all the impacted communities for your vocal and financial support. We could not have achieved our successes without you.

Anthony Stiegler is co-founder and secretary of Quiet Skies La Jolla.


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