FAA Regional Administrator for the Western-Pacific Region Glen Martin is surrounded by hundreds of locals as he speaks at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in 2016 during a meeting about the FAA’s feasibility study on solutions to address flight path noise. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)
Demonstrators crowd outside Anna Jean Cummings Park in Soquel in 2016 in protest of a new FAA flight path, which they said was too noisy for residents. (Kevin Johnson — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)
SANTA CRUZ >> Residents of Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley are hearing more planes flying over their neighborhoods on their way to San Francisco Airport — adding up to 183 planes a day and generating thousands of complaints, according to the watchdog group San Lorenzo Valley Advocacy Network.
A controversial flight path known as SERFR, which travels over Capitola, Happy Valley and the Summit, garnering millions of complaints since taking effect in March 2015, was switched back to its original route, known as Big Sur, tracking over Westside Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley ridgeline.
Here’s the explanation from FAA spokesman Ian Gregor on Tuesday: “On Feb. 1, an outside vendor that loads route databases into aircraft flight computers sent out an update of the San Francisco SERFR arrival that the FAA wasn’t prepared to use yet.”
He added, “As a result, the FAA immediately transitioned to the conventional Big Sur arrival route, which is west of the SERFR flight path. The FAA will resume using the SERFR when the vendor corrects the database. The vendor indicated they hope to accomplish this by March 1.”
As George Wylie, a pilot who lives in Brookdale put it, “In commercial aviation, you can’t have confusion… The FAA found a mistake before it caused a problem.”
Leaders of the San Lorenzo Valley Advocacy Network were especially dismayed, emailing their members and urging them to report noise. That group is led by Kyle Carter, Jan Smith, Jacqui Rice, Steve Munson, Maura Petersen and Mary Andersen, with Wylie as the technical expert.
Patrick Meyer of Save Our Skies, an advocacy group based in Santa Cruz, said he heard people on the Westside have complained but he points out the route change is temporary until April, sharing information he got from Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson.
For McPherson and fellow county supervisors John Leopold and Ryan Coonerty, the change was unexpected.
“Everybody was surprised by this change,” said Leopold. “We did not receive any forewarning of it.”
Coonerty said his constituents are “understandably very concerned that the noise from aircraft will be shifted to Santa Cruz residents. Many are already suffering impacts from increased flight path noise.”
The county supervisors have been hearing noise complaints since 2015.
That’s when the FAA adopted NextGen, a satellite-based system using GPS technology to shorten routes, save time and fuel, allow planes to fly closer together and avoid delays caused by airport stacking as planes wait for an open runway.
But with planes that used to fly at 14,000 feet over land flying as low as 10,000 feet, coupled with a change in how planes descend, noise complaints skyrocketed and finding a better route proved challenging.
As Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, said in April 2016, “Shifting noise from one community to another is not an option.”
The airplane noise problem stretches from coast to coast.
The FAA got an earful of complaints from people in Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington all after airports switched to the NextGen system where planes fly lower, according to the JDA Journal, an online publication focused on airline safety.
On the East Coast, a 6-year-old watchdog group named Aviation Impact Reform monitors the FAA at aireform.com/ and supports communities where people are adversely impacted by aviation.
Local officials were involved in a multiyear process involving multiple congressional districts in the San Francisco Bay Area culminating in an agreement with the FAA to design a change called “optimal descent” — with pilots gliding in to the airport, not powering up their engines, which creates noise for people on the ground.
McPherson alerted his constituents via the NextDoor social network that the flight path would revert from the Big Sur route to the SERFR route March 1.
A modified SERFR3 route is scheduled to be published “around April 1,” Leopold said, adding that the FAA is designing a flight path with the quieter descent, as recommended by the committee that studied airplane arrivals, which he expects will be implemented in August.
A well-attended meeting hosted by Save Our Skies in December with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, led to Save Our Skies announcing online that the change to cut noise would take place in August.
Mary Andersen of the San Lorenzo Valley Advocacy Network is not optimistic.
“The August 2018 date appears to be wishful thinking,” she said. “The only way the path would shift that quickly would be in the absence of sufficient public and environmental review.”
Coonerty suggested residents contact Panetta and Eshoo and ask them to make sure the FAA completes a full environmental assessment to ensure impacts related to flight path noise are mitigated.
HOW TO REPORT NOISE
Noise complaint hotline: 650-821-4736.
Toll free noise complaint hotline: 877-206-8290.
Noise complaint email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: San Lorenzo Valley Advocacy Network