San Diego Airport expansion & jet-noise update, June-Aug. 2019: Proposed $3B airport expansion, FAA’s flight-path changes


Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

There will be a public workshop, 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 at the Airport Noise Authority Office, 2722 Truxtun Road to address the commercial jet noise issues and the Part 150 Study. Please plan to attend to ask questions and make your voices heard.


Airport’s capacity forecast markedly increases

In late July, the Airport Authority released its updated capacity forecast, reporting “an unprecedented surge” in landings and takeoffs in recent years and predicting maximum capacity much earlier than previously reported. The forecasts are used to justify the proposed $3 billion Terminal 1 expansion project, which will add 11 new gates.

While Airport Authority officials say that increasing the number of gates will not affect maximum capacity, they concede that adding gates will enable the airport to reach maximum capacity much sooner.

Of course, more flights per hour translates into more noise per hour for the surrounding communities. It is likely that in the next 5 to 8 years, we will see (and hear) upwards of 45-50 operations per hour throughout the day, including between 10 to 11:30 p.m., when all departing flights fly along the La Jolla shoreline to mitigate nighttime noise in Point Loma .

Note further that there is no limitation on the number of arriving flights after 11:30 p.m., a large number of which fly directly over the La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Mesa, and Mt. Soledad communities.


Environmental Impact Report for airport expansion

The Airport Authority is expected to soon release a revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR) addressing the proposed expansion project. The central question is how can the San Diego airport accommodate the increased flight demand and support local tourism while minimizing (or reducing) the impact of commercial jet noise in our communities.

The EIR may not provide sufficient attention and weight to the noise and health consequences of the additional flight operations enabled by the expansion project.

A challenge to this EIR may be necessary to require better analysis of noise impacts on La Jolla and to condition the approval of the EIR on the implementation of specific measures for noise mitigation.


Citizen and Technical Advisory Meetings (TAC and CAC) Aug. 20

The Airport Authority described the upcoming Part 150 Study regarding potential noise mitigation procedures within the noise contour directly around the airport (the “65 CNEL”). The presentation included the purpose of the 150 Study, the forecasts regarding capacity at San Diego International Airport, and the baseline and anticipated noise associated with commercial flight operations. The study focuses on two components: aircraft noise and land use, considering baseline measurements and projections extending out five years.

The Part 150 Study addresses only the aircraft noise issues within the 65 CNEL contour. Since several of the earlier Flight Path & Procedure recommendations that would benefit La Jolla would be implemented immediately off the runway, they will be considered in the Part 150 Study.

The Part 150 Study begins by creating Noise Exposure Maps (“NEMs”), which look forward five years. The NEMs must be presented to and approved by the FAA , which takes time. Subsequently a Noise Compatibility Program (“NCP”) is developed with proposed measures to address noise.

The Part 150 Study will look at the aircraft fleet mix, the anticipated increase in flight operations and the associated noise. The consultants anticipate the Part 150 Study taking 18 months to complete, meaning it will likely not be submitted to the FAA until 2021.


Part 150 Study

The Part 150 Study will use the aviation forecasts developed for the gate expansion project, which show that in 2018 the airport handled approximately 25 million passengers. Those forecasts project the numbers to increase to 30 million passengers by 2023, 35 million by 2028 and 40 million by 2034. For context, in 2018 the airport handled around 212,000 commercial jet take-offs and landings, which are expected to increase to 250,000 annual operations by 2026.

The Airport Authority says that airlines will accommodate passenger demand by 1) increasing planes’ load factor (fewer unoccupied seats); 2) adding larger planes with larger engines to their fleet; and 3) implement “schedule smoothing,” moving peak period flights to off-peak periods resulting in a “flattened” daily schedule, which means a greater magnitude and more consistent noise affecting La Jolla.

The Airport Authority’s consultant will bring back to the TAC and CAC options to mitigate noise around the 65 CNEL by November 2019. Public workshops will be held and then the model alternatives to address noise will be prioritized.

There are a few potential reasons for optimism in the Part 150 Study. First, the informal night time “noise abatement” procedure for Point Loma is up for discussion, which currently requires that all night-time departures be on a 290-degree heading along the La Jolla coast line, far north of the 275-degree Jetty waypoint off Ocean Beach used during the daytime for half the flights. Of note, the “noise abatement” agreement to mitigate noise in Point Loma was made in an era when La Jolla was not impacted.

Second, the “ELSO” proposal, advanced by Quiet Skies La Jolla (, would permit both day and night departures to fly on a 10-degree separation track, rather than 15 degrees, due to improvements in satellite navigation. If ELSO is implemented the initial departure track would likely fly farther from the La Jolla shoreline.

Those involved with Quiet Skies La Jolla are in favor of smart airport growth that supports our economy, structured in a way to minimize the additional noise impact visited on La Jolla. There are simple and reasonable solutions which should be implemented as a condition to approving the airport expansion and development plan:

1) fly planes further out over the ocean before turning left or right;

2) eliminate the protocol, designed to protect only Point Loma from nighttime commercial jet noise, that requires all departing flights after 10 p.m. to turn right up the La Jolla coast;

3) eliminate commercial flight departures directly over La Jolla (“early right turns” over Mount Soledad) except for serious safety reasons; and

4) implement the flight path and procedure recommendations coming out of the Part 150 Study, which should shift flights away from the La Jolla shoreline.

La Jolla’s real-time noise complaints filed through the Air Noise button (at the website are an important way to make our voices heard. Please continue (or start) using it to easily and automatically file complaints.


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