As airplane noise complaints rise, SD Airport Authority and FAA answer residents’ concerns
A plan takes off from San Diego International Airport in the early morning hours. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Amid continuing reports of problematic noise by San Diegans surrounding San Diego International Airport, the San Diego Airport Noise Advisory Committee, with broad public representation, continues to study the issues involved.
The ANAC board is comprised of more than 20 board members representing a broad cross-section of the community, everyone from retired airline pilots to city and county legislative aides, community advisory board members and citizens at-large.
Residents can track airplanes coming and going from San Diego via Flight Tracker, which monitors the movement of flights and air traffic patterns within the greater San Diego area. Flight Tracker includes specific information about flights from San Diego International (SAN), Montgomery Field (MYF), Brown Field (SDM), NAS North Island (NZY), and MCAS Miramar (NKX) airports, as well as information on air traffic transiting through the San Diego area.
Flight Tracker information includes the aircraft’s type, altitude, origin/destination airports, and flight identification. This system allows residents to review specific aircraft that created a noise concern and lodge a complaint to the Airport Noise Mitigation Office directly from Flight Tracker. All Flight Tracker data is post processed by the vendor within 24-hours ensuring the track is accurately displayed and complete.
Casey Schnoor, a representative from the Peninsula on the ANAC board, had several questions about ongoing noise problems allegedly associated with flight path changes in and out of San Diego International Airport.
Using Schnoor's queries, the San Diego Community Newspaper Group held a Q&A with Federal Aviation Administration public affairs manager Ian Gregor, as well as the San Diego Airport Authority.
SDCNG: With the exception of left turns over the Peninsula, all departure issues (early turns, missed approaches, curfew violations, etc.) tracked by the Airport Authority are continuing at, or greatly in excess of, the growth rate in SAN operations (less than 2 percent annually), indicating day-to-day management is not controlling, nor improving upon, the problems.
FAA: Missed approaches/go-arounds are important safety tools that air traffic controllers and pilots use. They occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, controllers send arrivals around if a preceding arrival exits the runway more slowly than expected. Sometimes pilots choose to go around if they are coming in too high or fast on their approach. What's referred to as “early turns” is in fact controllers directing aircraft off published departure routes to keep aircraft properly separated from one another, or to keep them efficiently sequenced.
SDCNG: Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) are FAA facilities housing air-traffic controllers using radar displays and radios to guide approaching and departing aircraft. TRACON appears to now be redirecting some westerly departures with flight plans filed for left turns (ZZOOO) instead to the right along the coast at Bird Rock and turning over La Jolla for no reason, negating the efficiency benefits of the ZZOOO departure around Point Loma. Is this true?
FAA: For more than two decades, we have issued a 290-degree heading to all Lindbergh departures after 10 p.m. Controllers usually clear the aircraft to a point where they can resume the ZZOO departure, which entails turning left. However, controllers will occasionally instruct a pilot to turn right. They generally do this to avoid conflicts with military traffic that is inbound to North Island.
SDCNG: ANAC did little to help meet the ANAC Subcommittee's request to have the FAA fulfill its promise to have an appropriate FAA representative attend the subcommittee meetings and ANAC to facilitate a dialog for solutions and in fact, tabled a motion to forward a letter drafted by the subcommittee to the FAA asking them to please follow through on their promise. Can you tell me more about this allegation?
FAA: The FAA sends air traffic representatives to the ANAC and sub-committee meetings. These representatives are based locally and have detailed knowledge of how the local air traffic system works, so they are able to directly answer any
questions that arise.
SDCNG: In the first three months of this year, more than 8,000 noise complaints have been filed, putting them on track to exceed the approximately 30,000 submitted in 2016. Any response to this?
SDAA: At the Airport Authority, the most important consideration is not the number of complaints, but rather ensuring that we have the appropriate data needed to fully investigate each individual complaint. While we strive to be responsive to community complaints, it should be noted that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of all noise complaints received during February and March were from just four homes.
Our goal is to be able to track complaints geographically, pinpointing concentrations of complaints and then working to connect trends in various neighborhoods. With accurate information gathered from residents, airport staff can spend more time researching information and providing specific information back to the community, instead of just collecting complaint responses. This ultimately allows the airport to have more productive conversations with the FAA about the issue during ongoing meetings.
SDCNG: The San Diego Airport Authority has changed their procedures for accepting citizen noise complaints to disallow complaints submitted by email, forcing community residents to resort to phone calls or a lengthy online procedure, which will likely result in a reduction in complaints due to these complexities. What is the reasoning behind this change?
There are three ways a resident can file a noise complaint:
1.) via the online Flight Tracker.
2.) via web form (available in Flight Tracker or www.san.org/Airport-Noise/Flight-Tracking#4055230-submit-noise-concerns).
3.) via the noise complaint hotline at 619-400-2799.
SDAA: We take noise complaints very seriously. The new web format helps ensure that we have all the information we need to investigate concerns. E-mailed complaints are not as helpful because they sometimes lack sufficient detail (precise location, precise time of event, etc.) to help us investigate the cause of the concern.
As mentioned previously, our goal is to be able to track complaints geographically, pinpointing concentrations of complaints and then working to connect trends in various neighborhoods. We have heard concerns regarding the ability to lodge noise complaints with mobile devices and are working with the vendor to develop an update that would allow residents to input noise complaints on mobile devices, which we hope to release soon.
SDCNG: The Airport Authority has instituted a new "flight tracker" system that has been roundly criticized by citizens as being harder to use, both to track flights and to submit noise complaints, with no apparent improvement in track accuracy.
SDAA: The new Flight Tracker site offers the same functionality as the previous site, with some added enhancements to provide the public with additional information. The data provided on each flight has more complete information (flight number, tail number, altitude, airline, etc.) and there are additional enhancements to the map, such as the FAA Noise Dots.
To submit a noise complaint, the public can click on the link on the left side of the screen (see image one) or find a concerning aircraft and click on the link (see image two). The site has increased customization specific for our community, i.e., showing the FAA Noise Dots in blue. The FAA sources the data for all web tracking sites so there is no change in accuracy.