FAA: Changes could decrease jet plane noise in La Jolla

During a Public Information Workshop Feb. 2 at Solana Vista Elementary School, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel offered information about changes coming to San Diego International Airport landings and departures this spring as part of the Southern California Metroplex Project, but no explanation for why La Jolla residents have noticed an increase in jet airplane noise starting in fall 2016.

“In the last seven years, air traffic has increased in Southern California. I’m not saying that explains everything, but there’s definitely more flights,” said public information officer Ian Gregor. Other reasons would be an increase in the size of airplanes (and therefore, their volume), frequency of smaller planes and helicopters, the overcast weather and growth of Gillespie Field airport (whose air space lays to the north of San Diego International Airport).

“There have been no changes (in FAA procedures) in the 10 years I’ve worked here,” FAA air traffic controller Mike Taylor said. He theorized that “people hear changes in flight paths are coming. And I’m not discrediting anybody, but now they notice it more (when planes are present and say) ‘Oh, yeah, there are planes out there.’ But again, this is just my opinion,” he said.

“San Diego Airport Authority determines how many airplanes can be at the airport at one time, we don’t,” he concluded.

La Jolla resident Len Gross, who attended the meeting, offered a tentative explanation, “It’s a combination of things, a whole bunch of factors that we haven’t yet figured out. The airport procedure hasn’t changed, but over time, (San Diego Airport northbound departures) have moved closer to shore, for whatever reason. Also, people in La Jolla have gotten sensitive (to plane noise). They hear about Metroplex Project and they think, ‘It must be that,’ it’s a psychological phenomenon.”

However, Gross clarified he would still put up a fight against the plane noise in La Jolla. “We’re very upset about this. When you put all these factors together (bigger and more frequent planes, more helicopter and general aviation flights), it feels like we live in an airport.”

Metroplex Project

The FAA’s Southern California Metroplex Project is a plan to improve safety and efficiency in area airports by replacing the beacon-based air routes with satellite-based navigation, changing the points at which airplanes turn en route. “Satellite technology allows us to build more direct routes as well as routes that are automatically separated from one another. This creates a more efficient system and reduces pilot-controller communications,” the FAA said in a press release. These changes will be implemented in March and April.

The FAA added, “During our environmental analysis for this project, we modeled noise at about 300,000 locations throughout Southern California. Our modeling found that some areas will experience slight noise decreases, some will experience slight noise increases, and some will experience no changes.”

The Southern California Metroplex Project was signed on Aug. 31, 2016. The project’s website reads: “This is the FAA’s final decision, and it enables the agency to move forward with implementing the project.”

Three new satellite-based air routes for San Diego International Airport were presented at the workshop. Some of the pivotal points where planes turn will change, because in the old system the navigation beacons were physically planted on the ground, and the new technology allows for satellite-based locations.

San Diego International Airport departure routes will be replaced, so aircrafts going north (towards San Francisco) will turn on a satellite point, which FAA maps show is closer to the shore than the current one. However, FAA personnel assured Bird Rock residents, who have been complaining of the noise created by outgoing flights, that the new technology will ensure more precise navigation routes. Therefore, less commercial flights will deviate from their route and turn north closer to the coast (which could explain some of the noise increase noticed by residents).

The landing route path will remain largely the same, but the change will be in the way aircraft pilots perform descents. “We can create descents in which aircraft essentially glide down on idle or near-idle power to their final approaches. Because engines aren’t spooling up and air brakes aren’t being deployed, the plane makes less noise,” reads the FAA press release. Other advantages of this method are fewer carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel efficiency.

So for La Jolla Shores neighbors who have protested increasingly loud arriving flights, those aircrafts could potentially be quieter. “I’m very confident about this, because (reduction in noise) is happening in Washington, D.C., Houston, Atlanta, north Texas … and northern California, where they have already implemented these changes,” said Taylor.

The next public meetings where aircraft noise in La Jolla will be discussed are the La Jolla Town Council, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. and the Airport Noise Advisory Committee, 4 p.m. Feb. 15 at 3225 N. Harbor Drive, Administrative offices.

To connect with La Jollans who are reporting aircraft noise, e-mail noplanenoiselajolla@gmail.com

How to submit a noise complaint

  • If you hear a loud airliner, you may submit a complaint to airnoise@san.org or visit webtrak5.bksv.com/san and wait 30 minutes for the system to register the passing flight.
  • To be counted, you must include your first and last name, address with ZIP code, the time and date you heard the noise, and the problem (i.e. loud noise).
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