La Jollans protest flight path changes and plane noise increase

A handful of La Jollans attended the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC) meeting Dec. 21, 2016 to speak out against recent changes in flight patterns that have brought planes — and their noise — closer to their homes. 

In mid-2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed changes to flight paths nationwide to reduce fuel costs and improve the flow of plane traffic. In San Diego, that has meant planes flying closer to the coast. 

Soon after, concerned residents from Bird Rock to La Jolla Shores noticed (and wrote to La Jolla Light about) the increase in plane noise and the resulting frustration that they were not notified of the flight plan changes and how these changes might affect them. Although the airplane “curfew” is 11 p.m., many residents stated they’ve heard airplanes well past that time.

At the meeting, several voiced their frustrations to the 25-member ANAC board. La Jolla Shores resident Karen Marshall said, “I cannot tell you how angry I am that these changes have been made. I lived in Point Loma for 20 years and I knew when I bought my house in Point Loma that there would be airplanes, so how dare the FAA come in and make these changes without letting anyone know. I’m devastated and I have not been able to sleep.”

Added La Jolla resident Leonard Gross, “There has been a dramatic change in the character of noise in our area. Our quiet neighborhoods, with the occasional sound of jets, helicopters and general aviation sounds, has been transformed into an aircraft thoroughfare.” He reported that during a 90-minute period around noon one day, he was able to see and hear a different aircraft every two minutes. 

“That is a stark contrast to what was in effect before,” Gross said. “It is a huge change and since that change, our quality of life has degraded. Last night, around 11 p.m., there was a 20-minute period with jets every four minutes.”

Gross also inquired why residents were not notified of the proposed flight path changes, and suggested comparing recent data to historical data in terms of distances from land, altitude and slant range distances from homes to these aircraft. “Let’s see how much closer, lower and faster they are going,” he said.

Beatriz Pardo, a Bird Rock resident who said she noticed the noise change in October, questioned whether residents would have to sue to get something done.

“You have moved San Diego Airport into our neighborhoods … from 6 in the morning until 12:12 at night, when I am trying to sleep,” she said. “It feels like we are under assault. It’s not just commercial aircraft that we hear, but also helicopters and little airplanes. The skies have opened up. Can we please go back to (the flight path) that was working before? That’s what we want. Or do we have to resort to lawsuits?” 

Residents of other areas of San Diego, empathetic to La Jolla’s concerns, spoke in solidarity. 

Saying he understood that the flight path changes were prompted by fuel cost savings, Gary Wonacott of the Mission Beach Town Council suggested quantifying the data of quality-of-life impacts to residents to see how it compares to the cost savings associated with a change. 

Lila Schmidt opined, “Now that La Jolla is mad, maybe that will help, because we have been screaming about it, and we haven’t gotten anywhere. Every meeting, we get told ‘we’ll look into it’ and I want to hear ‘we fixed it’.” 

To “look into it,” ANAC uses data collected from an online complaint form and a system known as WebTrak (found at webtrak5.bksv.com/san) to guide its decision-making. However, program manager Sjohnna Knack said incomplete complaints or template complaints (one document copied-and-pasted repeatedly with minor changes), are not productive to the cause. Instead, she offered advice on how to file a complete complaint that ANAC can record and include in future statistics. 

Noise complaint format

“When it comes to filing a complaint, the more detailed information one can give, the better. I acknowledge it’s a lot of work for the public to do, but those are the types of things that make it easier for us to have a conversation with the FAA or the operators,” she said. “What’s really difficult is we’re getting copy-and-paste messages and the only change on each is the time. That is 70-80 percent of what we get. I want to get the most accurate information possible, which would allow us to take action and make things better.” 

The most important complaint details, she continued, are the time of the noise (most critical), whether it is a departure or arrival, if the person can see the plane and identify a color, whether the plane uses a propeller or is a jet, and a valid address. 

Alternatively, she said, “If you use WebTrak, you could look up active flights, see the plane that was concerning you, and click on that to find all the information you need.” Information found on WebTrak includes Flight ID numbers, aircraft types, origin, destination and altitude.

At the conclusion of the public comments, facilitator Heidi Gantwek thanked all the speakers for their time, energy and comments. “It really does help and it is important to us,” she said.

— The Airport Noise Advisory Committee meets quarterly at the San Diego Airport Administration Building, 3225 N. Harbor Drive. The next meeting has not been announced. Find more information at san.org/airport-authority/meetings-agendas

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