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Moves to reduce airplane noise on Point Loma Peninsula leave some unsatisfied

A plane flies over Liberty Station in Point Loma.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Though efforts are underway to mitigate aircraft noise from San Diego International Airport in nearby residential areas such as Point Loma and Ocean Beach, some community members still have concerns following a noise compatibility study.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which manages the airport, submitted recommendations drawn from the study, including modifications to departure procedures, to the Federal Aviation Administration, which manages air traffic.

In July, the Airport Authority was notified that the FAA had agreed to change the flight path for some departing aircraft to reduce noise over Point Loma and Ocean Beach without shifting noise to a different community. The modified path takes planes departing from San Diego farther out over the ocean before turning back to fly to eastern destinations. The idea is that when planes turn back to fly east, they will be at higher altitude and thus noise will be reduced.

Sjohnna Knack, program manager for noise mitigation with SDCRAA, says the Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study update to the FAA had participation from the Airport Noise Advisory Committee, or ANAC, which formed in 1981 to participate in ways to address aircraft noise. It consists of people from various organizations, aviation interests and residents selected by their local community planning groups.

Part 150 refers to a section of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations dealing with airport noise compatibility planning.

“This study was a two-year effort that looked at measures to reduce and mitigate aircraft noise impacts,” Knack said. “This modification to the flight path is the result of years of hard work and collaboration between the Airport Authority and the ANAC.”

Knack said SDCRAA worked with residents on potential flight path changes that could reduce aircraft noise without shifting it to other residents.

R. Casey Schnoor, a member of a citizens advisory committee for SDCRAA’s Part 150 study, said he’s frustrated by what he called a lack of specifics about an implementation plan for Airport Authority recommendations.

“This was part of NextGen, an FAA enterprise to reevaluate all arrival and departure procedures,” Schnoor said. “The then-current configuration for departures was to … go out approximately a mile outside of the [Ocean Beach] Pier, hit a waypoint and then proceed south along the peninsula parallel to a waypoint off the south tip of Point Loma. The proposal at that time was to remove the waypoint off the south tip and allow departing aircraft to simply go around the OB Pier and then fly right back over the top of the peninsula.”

Schnoor said he and other residents advocated moving the waypoint farther to the south instead of removing it.

One of the recommendations SDCRAA submitted to the FAA was to continue the Quieter Home Program, which was launched about 20 years ago and has since provided noise insulation for nearly 5,000 single-family and multifamily homes immediately east and west of the airport, including 209 homes in 2021. Knack said the Airport Authority expects 400 more homes will get sound insulation this year. An additional 735 have applied for insulation treatments through the program and are on its waiting list.

In September 2021, the FAA awarded SDCRAA nearly $26 million each year to go primarily toward sound-insulating 400 to 500 homes per year, depending on the size of the home. The Airport Authority also expects to insulate one non-residential property per year.

It was the Airport Authority’s largest sound insulation grant ever and one of the largest annual amounts given to an airport nationwide.

According to a presentation by ANAC in September this year, the FAA has awarded SDCRAA an additional $14 million in grants for the program.

In addition to continuing Quieter Home, SDCRAA recommended a modification to a Noise Abatement Departure Profile, or NADP, that would require aircraft thrust settings to be adjusted to reduce noise below the flight path. A similar procedure has been implemented at John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

The Quieter Home continuation and the modification of the departure profile are under review by the FAA.

The federal agency did not have an immediate response to questions from the Point Loma-OB Monthly.

An airliner takes off from San Diego International Airport.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Schnoor submitted a letter to authorities expressing his frustration with what he considered the lack of a clear and accountable implementation plan for recommendations in the draft of the Part 150 study. Specifically, his letter emphasized further examination of the NADP and a nighttime departure procedure.

“We felt that both of those things had a significant opportunity to reduce noise,” Schnoor said. “The noise abatement procedure was brushed over, the nighttime departure did not get any resolution to it. Those were the two most important elements of the recommendations that we made subsequent to the waypoint off the south end of the peninsula.”

Schnoor and fellow Point Loma Peninsula residents Nancy Palmtag, Mike Tarlton and Bob Herrin wrote in a guest commentary published by the Point Loma-OB Monthly in October 2021 that they had been fighting airport noise issues through various Airport Authority-sponsored community committees since 2015 and that they felt “minimal progress was made by the Part 150 process” for the benefit of peninsula communities.

“Unfortunately, progress in this fight against commercial jet noise and pollution impacts on peninsula communities has been heavily constrained ... while many questions remain unanswered and severe airport impacts go unchecked,” they wrote.

Any aircraft that departs San Diego International before 6:30 a.m. or after 11:30 p.m. is subject to a penalty, pending review by the Airport Authority. Arrivals are permitted around the clock.

According to noise statistics on the ANAC web page, the number of penalties for flight curfew violations assessed in 2022 as of August had already outpaced the number of penalties in 2021.

Noise complaints have been trending down, according to ANAC’s August report, which stated that at the time, there had been nearly 52,000 noise complaints this year. There were more than 77,000 noise complaints in 2021 and nearly 98,000 in 2020.

Among neighborhoods, communities in Point Loma had the second-highest number of complaints in both July and August, behind Mission Beach.

According to Schnoor, the noise from the airport is still “significant and getting worse.”

The airport’s in-progress overhaul of Terminal 1, which will include 11 additional gates, is “basically expanding their capacity,” Schnoor said. “Flight time for departures has been very crammed for the majority of the flying hours. There is a curfew of flights after a certain hour, so what they are doing is basically cramming in more aircraft, and it will exceed the capacity of how many aircraft they can get off the ground in a ... day of operation. … The line for departure at 6:30 in the morning will be longer and there will be more flights up until the curfew.”

Knack said the number of takeoffs and landings is ultimately limited by the airport’s single runway, not the number of gates.


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