Local committee targets Nov. 17 for recommended airplane noise solutions

Local representatives continue to work with Federal Aviation Administration officials on a solution to the increased airplane noise that has triggered tens of thousands of complaints from Los Altos to Santa Cruz since the FAA changed flight paths 18 months ago.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, chairman of the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, which comprises representatives from all of the affected cities, said last week that the committee has held two “roll up your sleeves” working meetings per month with FAA officials since July. The meetings followed three high-profile public input gatherings earlier this year that drew standing-room-only audiences.

“We’re making good progress,” Simitian said, as officials pore over possible solutions that minimize noise impact for residents while retaining the FAA goal of better flight efficiency. “The issues are extraordinarily complex.”

The committee listened to testimony from several organized groups of residents, including Sky Posse Los Altos, along with more than 250 individual speakers in the course of 10.5 hours of meeting time. The committee, which met Thursday, has another working meeting scheduled this month and two in October. The goal, Simitian said, is to produce a set of draft recommendations by Oct. 21, followed by discussion at the committee’s Oct. 27 meeting. The committee has targeted Nov. 17 as its deadline for submitting a final set of recommendations to the U.S. Congress.

Simitian said that though the committee has “no legal authority” over the FAA, its consensus-driven recommendations would help Congress, led by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents the area, in its discussions.

“Congress will have the task of wrestling the FAA to the ground,” he said.

Unhappy residents

Although formal solutions are nowhere in sight, discussions at the working meetings thus far trouble some Los Altos residents closely following the issue.

Don Gardner said FAA officials have proposed a shift back to a previous ground track that was in place prior to March 2015, when implementation of its NextGen program shifted flight paths and lowered altitudes directly over Los Altos and Palo Alto.

The problem, according to critics studying the new path, dubbed DAVYJ, is that it includes increased concentrations of planes and institutes lower altitudes than the previous flight path, BSR.

“Although some people are suggesting that the DAVYJ flight procedure is going to restore the noise to those levels of BSR, this is not the case, which is shown by the FAA in their modeling,” said Gardner, who has monitored and collected data on airplane traffic for months.

Under current FAA plans, the concentration in the number of planes is likely to increase. FAA representative Glen Martin noted the planned implementation of Time-Based Flight Management – maximizing the number of planes in a given area to increase efficiency. Martin said the management plan could be implemented within two years.

“Picture nonstop planes one after another,” said Tami Mulcahy, who spoke at the June public input meeting on behalf of Sky Posse Los Altos.

Mulcahy rejected FAA rationale that safety also was a factor in the flight pattern changes.

“Let’s be clear – our skies were not unsafe before,” she said. “The lowered altitudes and shallower descent angles are meant to maximize airport efficiency without regard to the additional impact imposed on people living under these NextGen-enabled highways in the sky.”

Simitian acknowledged “some anxiety out there – understandably. (But) we haven’t reached any conclusions.”

The supervisor shares Mulcahy’s goal of solutions that benefit everyone.

“We want to avoid making this a zero-sum game,” Simitian said. “We’re being diligent about avoiding proposals that shift the problem from one place to another.”

Still, for those holding their ears and cursing the continuous roar of jet engines, actual relief won’t come anytime soon.

“There isn’t an easy answer, quick fix or silver bullet,” Simitian said.

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