Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:
Here’s the latest news addressing the commercial jet noise associated with the FAA’s NextGen Metroplex system, the impact studies commissioned by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) and the recently proposed $3 billion airport expansion.
Flight Path & Procedures Study: Consultant’s Recommendations
SDCRAA’s consultant reported the results of its noise modeling to the Technical and Citizen Advisory Committees (“TAC” and “CAC”) on March 28. Over the last year, several proposals were advanced to reduce noise in La Jolla and surrounding communities caused by the Metroplex NextGen navigation system.
NextGen concentrated departure and arrival paths over and adjacent to La Jolla, creating superhighways in the skies, where noise used to be disbursed. La Jolla was adversely and markedly affected, particularly in areas facing southwest, including The Muirlands, Bird Rock , Lower and Upper Hermosa, The Barber Tract, The Village, La Jolla Shores, parts of Mount Soledad and the entire north side of La Jolla.
Four proposed solutions were noise modeled to assess whether proposed flight path and procedure changes would reduce noise in La Jolla, if so by how much, and whether the reduced noise would be inappropriately shifted to other communities. The consultant recommended advancing three of the proposals to the Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC) for consideration and possible advancement to the San Diego Regional Airport Authority and the FAA.
The first and second proposals are similar; addressing night time departures between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., requiring departures to turn west to a new “Bird Rock” waypoint either 1.5 nautical miles or .5 nautical miles from the shoreline. These proposals would create a standard departure path, which would largely eliminate the FAA authorized “right turn” departures flying directly over La Jolla. Routing departures to a new Bird Rock waypoint by turning .5 nautical miles from the shoreline produces the best result, reducing noise by between 1.0-1.9 decibels (db) across the widest swath of La Jolla.
The 1.5 nautical miles turn point achieves the same decibel decrease, but over a smaller area. Neither proposal would adversely affect Mission Beach, which would experience no discernible change in decibel levels. Moreover, the almost 2db noise decrease would be much more than what the FAA said was the .7db noise increase in La Jolla caused by NextGen Metroplex. La Jolla would swing from a .7db increase to almost a 2db decrease — an almost 3db improvement. The relief map under the .5 nauttical miles solution would look like this (see map): where the light green dots represent a 1.0db to 1.9db noise reduction, the dark green dots represent a 2.0 to 2.9db reductions, and the white dots represent a 0db to .9db reduction.
A third proposal would alleviate day and nighttime commercial jet arrival noise over La Jolla, by up to 4.9db, by shifting the arrival path north over the I805/SR52 interchange. However, it would come at the cost of Kearney Mesa, which would receive a comparable increase in noise. The consultant recommended against advancing this proposal because the FAA will evaluate and reject proposals that simply shift noise from one community to another. While this prejudices La Jolla since NextGen originally “shifted” the noise to La Jolla in November 2017 when NextGen was implemented, the FAA is vested with near complete discretion to reject a proposed change on this basis. While this is unfair since La Jolla had no say before the noise was shifted here in November 2017, the reality is that the FAA will not consider that inequity, a legal challenge advancing that issue would likely fail, and therefore, the Airport Authority will likely accept the consultant’s recommendation not to advance this proposal.
Finally, the fourth proposal mostly affects Point Loma by extending the JETTI waypoint 2 nautical miles west and would have a 1.0-1.9db reduction impact on a very small sliver of coastal Point Loma. This proposal will advance for further study, but its impact is much smaller and would be balanced against increased fuel consumption and efficiency.
The Part 150 Study Proceeds
In parallel with the Flight Paths & Procedures Study, the Part 150 Study is now beginning, which will consider any proposals implemented off the end of the runway, impacting the 65 CNEL noise contour around the airport. At least one proposal that could help La Jolla will be considered: implementing a departure procedure requiring 10 degrees of separation rather than 15 degrees off the end of the runway. A new FAA navigation procedure called ELSO, used for safety and efficiency purposes, could keep departing planes further from La Jolla on takeoff, and further improve the noise reduction goals.
A noise exposure map will be constructed in the Part 150 process to assess the impact on Ocean Beach and other areas immediately around the airport. Another related issue in the Part 150 Study will be the current 290 degree heading requirement for nighttime noise abatement, primarily in Point Loma. Discussion has occurred regarding expanding that departure heading to a range between 275 degrees to 295 degrees, which could adversely affect both Point Loma and La Jolla. Timing for the Part 150 process is likely to take around two years before recommendations are made to the Airport Authority, let alone advanced to the FAA.
Airport Expansion Plans
As widely reported, the Airport Authority and the FAA are proposing a $3 billion expansion of the airport, adding 11 new gates, and markedly increasing passenger and flight operation capacity. Projections are for 21 percent increase in passenger traffic, increasing to 28 million passengers by 2025 compared to 22 million passengers in 2017. Those increases can only be achieved by a combination of more flights and/or larger planes.
The Airport Authority says that a revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be released later this summer, taking into account the “Grand Central Public Transit Hub” and traffic issues associated with the expansion, but so far, the Airport Authority has said very little about the proposed expansion’s noise increase to the surrounding communities. When the capacity forecasts are released with the EIR, an evaluation will have to be made to assess the noise impacts, and if the revised EIR fails to adequately address the issue, challenges may ensue. Everyone is supportive of smart growth and the economic advantages of bringing more people and flights to San Diego, but those must be balanced against appropriate quality of life and health standards for our communities.
Curiously, the Airport Authority suggested that there will be no change in noise caused by the airport expansion because the increased passenger traffic could be achieved without the expansion. If that is the case, why is it necessary to spend $3 billion to build 11 new additional gates? Questions abound over the Airport Authority’s logic to justify an expansion project and it makes little sense that adding more gates and more flights will not add more noise. While the noise intensity from each plane may be the same, the frequency of that noise will increase on the order of 21 percent.
ANAC will begin addressing this issue at its next meeting, 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 17 at the Holiday Inn at 4875 North Harbor Drive. Please come to listen and speak up during the community comment session. This will be a very important meeting.
The issues will be taken up 4-6 p.m. April 17 at the ANAC meeting, and then at 10 a.m. April 18 at the next TAC meeting and 2 p.m. for the next CAC meeting. Please plan to attend at least one, and in particular the ANAC meeting where public comment is encouraged. Additional next steps include 1) community input through the TAC and CAC about whether to advance the flight path and procedure proposals before the Part 150 process is completed; 2) presentation of the proposals to ANAC for consideration; 3) an ANAC vote on what to recommend to the Airport Authority Board; 4) an Airport Authority Board staff recommendation on the ANAC recommendations, and then 5) Airport Authority recommendations to the FAA.
First, patience is required — nothing will happen quickly. The FAA is taking at least two years to start considering proposals, which means a probable time line of 3 to 5 years before any solution is accepted and implemented. Second, the notion that the proposed $3 billion airport expansion will not lead to more flights and more noise is questionable and could be seen as a biased assertion by the Airport Authority Board and the FAA to mover the project through without adequate consideration for the affected communities. Third, the number of households filing even a single complaint every month in La Jolla matters. Be proactive by using the Air Noise button (airnoise.io), ANAC’s web-based complaint system (webtrak.emsbk.com/san) or the Airport Authority’s telephone complaint line at (619) 400-2799 to file at least one complaint per month, when appropriate.
— Anthony Stiegler represents Quiet Skies La Jolla: quietskieslajolla.org