Airplane noise in La Jolla: San Diego International Airport Gen/Metroplex commercial jet noise update

Guest Commentary / Opinion / Our Readers Write:

As reported in prior articles in the La Jolla Light, La Jolla residents have complained of new and sustained aircraft noise originating from San Diego International Airport (SDIA) operations. This update summarizes the current state of the commercial aircraft noise issue, its implications for La Jolla, and next steps.

Origin of the problem: The FAA completed the implementation of its nationwide Next Gen/Metroplex satellite-based navigation system at SDIA in March 2017, resulting in flight path and procedure changes creating concentrated jet “superhighways” around and over La Jolla. Many La Jolla residents reported new, loud and sustained commercial jet noise that dramatically interferes with the quiet enjoyment of homes, parks, commercial and outdoor spaces. Some residents are more affected than others, given the unique topography of La Jolla and, in many people’s view, La Jolla’s traditional and historic quiet quality of life has been degraded.

La Jolla Community Action & Response: La Jollans began calling attention to the issues in late 2016, after aircraft arrival changes over La Jolla Shores were implemented. La Jollans have filed tens of thousands of noise complaints to SDIA; attended Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC) meetings and let their concerns be heard through the public comment period; the La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) established an Airport Noise Task Force; and several residents formed Quiet Skies La Jolla, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(4) entity, to assess legal options, advocate for La Jolla’s interests, work with the LJTC, and provide an organized voice for the community at large. It is now clear that La Jolla’s legal options are limited due to the October 2016 expiration of a statutory notice and petition process governing FAA matters.

On Dec. 7, 2017 the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDRAA) met to consider ANAC recommendations to mitigate commercial jet noise across San Diego. District 2 City Council member Lorie Zapf spoke and District 1 Council member Barbara Bry and County Supervisor Ron Roberts provided written statements emphasizing the need to consider and protect La Jolla’s and Point Loma’s interests.

Tony Stiegler of Quiet Skies La Jolla addressed the significant noise increases in the Bird Rock, Hermosa and Muirlands neighborhoods caused by the March 2017 northerly flight path changes and the opportunity for “win/win” compromises including routing departures further offshore to mitigate coastal noise and adjusting arrival path altitudes over La Jolla Shores.

In response, the SDCRAA approved a Part 150 study funded by the FAA; established a Citizen Advisory Commission (CAC) to serve as a liaison between affected communities and the Airport Noise Authority; and established a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) comprised of airline industry, FAA and private citizens who are most qualified to consider the complex challenges associated with making flight procedure changes in the context of the FAA’s mission to provide a safe and efficient aerospace system. Since that meeting, San Diego’s Airport Noise Mitigation Office has engaged with the FAA to begin the Part 150 Study and a parallel “Flight Procedure Analysis” study, and hired a consultant separately funded by the SDCRAA.

Part 150, the 65CNEL, and the Flight Procedure Analysis: Part 150 is a voluntary FAA program that sets guidelines for airport operators to document aircraft noise exposure, and to establish noise abatement and compatible land use programs. The FAA has indicated that, as a matter of policy and precedent, it will not consider flight path procedure changes outside the 65 CNEL contour.

For reference, the 65 CNEL contour in San Diego exists only immediately adjacent to SDIA, including the westbound departure path directly over Point Loma. La Jolla is well outside the 65 CNEL contour. However, the FAA has stated that it will be receptive to recommendations for areas outside the 65 CNEL, in the context of the parallel Flight Procedure study. There is reason for moderate optimism as the FAA has been working with other cities on potential changes addressing community interests.

La Jolla, the CAC, the TAC and the Future: Applications to serve on the Citizen Advisory Committee to the Part 150 and parallel Flight Procedures studies were made public in January. Forty applications were submitted for 15 seats and three La Jollans were selected to serve, including Len Gross, a retired Ph.D. aeronautical engineer; Chris McCann, a retired Air Force officer and U2 pilot; and Tony Stiegler, a commercial and intellectual property litigation and trial lawyer and co-founder of Quiet Skies La Jolla.

Two members of the CAC were then nominated and appointed to the TAC: Chris McCann and retired USAF F-16 pilot Michael Tarlton of Ocean Beach. The CAC held its first meeting March 22 and was informed of the timeline and steps that will occur over the next 12-18 months to conduct the studies, engage with the community and FAA, and make recommendations to the FAA.

The CAC and TAC will meet with the consultant with the objective of presenting recommendations to the FAA by the spring of 2019. The estimated timeline will be available in the slide deck posted to San Diego Airport Authority’s website soon

The La Jolla CAC members will present updates through this column, invite community input at LJTC meetings and will provide an organized voice for La Jolla advocating for solutions — including asking that departing flights fly further offshore before turning north (or south) past Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Bird Rock and the Village, dispersing the concentration of departures and arrivals from the “superhighways,” and increasing the altitude of arrivals over La Jolla Shores and the Muirlands.

If you are affected by commercial aircraft noise, please sign up and use the “Air Noise” button to automatically lodge your complaints through the website

Over 85,000 commercial jet noise complaints have been filed in San Diego since about August 2017, providing critical empirical data about Next Gen’s impact in San Diego.

La Jollans are also invited to e-mail to offer views and be placed on the Quiet Skies La Jolla e-mail distribution list.