La Jollan creates app to make filing noise complaints easier

Lower Hermosa resident Anthony Stiegler, who first noticed an increase in airplane noise sometime between March and April, had been calling in complaints to the San Diego Airport Authority every time he heard a commercial jet pass by. “It took a long time to make the phone call,” he told La Jolla Light. “You had to make the call, leave a 20- to 30-second voicemail message to give them the data they were requesting … you had to do that for any and every flight that came by.”

Acknowledging the frustration, Chris McCann, a software developer and former Air Force pilot, and the La Jolla rep on the Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC) subcommittee, started testing and ultimately released an easier system for filing complaints automatically.

“It simplified the process,” Stiegler attested. “Instead of me having to make a phone call or get online to make the complaints, it now just takes a second as opposed to minutes or much longer.”

Another user, Lee Miller of La Jolla agreed. “It’s a sanity saver,” she said.

Airnoise, as the platform is called, features two options: 1) A $5 monthly membership to create an account and use the service, which may be activated through the website or a switch; 2) A “noise button” that can be purchased for $20 and is a physical switch connected to the user’s Wi-Fi that sends a signal to a remote computer when the user hits it.

“When the button is pressed, it transmits a signal over the Internet to a system I set up,” McCann began. “People have already signed up from their website, put their address in, and we geo-code that address, figure out the latitude and longitude, and that info is used to look for air traffic that’s near you, in about a 5-mile radius of you, up to 10,000 feet.”

Once the system has found the airplane likely generating the noise, the user receives a report with information about the flight and a complaint is automatically input into the Airport Authority’s system, Flight Tracker.

The Airport Authority recently switched from WebTrack to Flight Tracker, a system that came with enhanced features but removed the option to input complaints by e-mail. Staff member Sjohnna Knack said at a past ANAC meeting that eliminating the e-mails freed up time for employees to analyze the data. “When we get that info, we can do some investigation, when previously, all we were doing is inputting data,” she explained.

Beatriz Pardo of Bird Rock said she used to input her complaints by e-mail before she started using the Airnoise button. “It’s like a dream,” she told the Light, “before it took so much time. And not only that, but I wasn’t able to identify the aircraft, and now I press the button and it tells me what aircraft it is, how far it is from my house, the altitude, the airline.”

That kind of information is what the Airport Authority needs to create analysis and reports. However, San Diego Airport public relations specialist Rebecca Bloomfield wrote in an e-mail to the Light, “Some of the app complaints are not as helpful because they lack sufficient detail (precise location, precise time of event, etc.) needed to accurately investigate the cause of the concern.”

However, Airnoise creator McCann responded, “Regarding ANAC’s comments about the complaints, the system fills in their Web form with all fields that they say are required to investigate a complaint. At one point, they made a change to the format of the date field that I wasn’t aware of, but that was easily detected and corrected. In fact, Airnoise adds more information than is required about the specific flight the user is complaining about, when that information is available to the system.”

When asked why he decided to create this service, McCann explained, “(The Airport Authority) doesn’t understand how emotionally draining it is for people who are inundated by aircraft noise for three to five hours a day in their homes to go on its website and file a complaint. I’m hoping to provide a mechanism to raise the signal from people over the noise.”

As to the cost, he said, “I’d love to make it completely free to people, because I didn’t get into this as a business, I got into this to solve a problem, but it costs money to do this stuff and I don’t want to be in a hole for providing a service.”

He added that more than 4,000 complaints have been generated and sent to the Airport Authority since March, and some 20 users have already signed up.