On Monday, May 19, the FAA released three documents (executive summary, phase one report, appendices) describing the state of their efforts to reduce noise in northern California.  Based on our initial review, we are disappointed by the FAA documents.

Here’s a visual analysis of the main solution that FAA deems feasible in their May 19 documents regarding arrivals:

The blue line represents the current 'noise corridor', whereas the red the new 'noise corridor' proposed by FAA in their May 19 documents. The light blue or orange band is the noise shadow cast by airplanes in a corridor.

The blue line represents the current ‘noise corridor’, whereas the red the new ‘noise corridor’ proposed by FAA in their May 19 documents. The light blue or orange band is the noise shadow cast by airplanes in a corridor.

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Specifically, the May 19 FAA proposals fall short due to the following reasons:

  1. Nowhere in the documents is there any suggestion that the FAA understands our pain, either noise or air pollution.  They do not commit to any reduction in noise or to measure the noise that results from their proposals.  They insist that they will continue to use the same discredited noise metrics (FAA 1050.1F) that predicted “no significant impact” for the NextGen deployment.
  2. They deliver a laundry list of 46 possible modifications to Metroplex air traffic procedures of which 25 were “arrivals” and 6 were “arrivals and departures”.  They concluded that 9 modifications to arrivals were “feasible”.  The FAA did not even respond to the proposals by Palo Alto, made in 2015, to move arrivals to overfly the San Francisco Bay, disperse flights arriving at SFO, or retrofit noisy Airbus aircraft with vortex generators.  They are thinking inside a very small box.
  3. All the discussion of SFO arrivals is focused on flights from the south.  The FAA has disregarded flights from the north and west that are vectored over the mid-peninsula.  Even flights from the South won’t be appreciably quieter: the FAA proposes a new arrival that will (a) follow the SEFFR track to somewhere between Monterey and the coast of Santa Cruz/Aptos, and then (b) transition over to the BIGSUR ground track while remaining at the lower SERFR altitudes.  Because this changes neither NextGen’s lowered altitudes nor denser flight concentrations, this might at best provide minimal relief to homes in the hills north of Santa Cruz and south of Saratoga.  This modest proposal is consistent with the statement by Glen Martin, the FAA’s Western Pacific Regional Administrator, that “moving back to the state of affairs before NextGen” is not an option.
  4. While Mid-Peninsula could see incremental noise reductions if the promised “optimized profile descents” (engine-idle descents) are implemented, this is cold comfort and has been promised–but not delivered–in the past.  The significant benefits accrue only to residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains who live under the SERFR route.
  5. There is no commitment to continuous improvement.  The FAA seems intent on a handful of one-off changes, only.  Due to its complexity, this problem cannot be solved in a single pass.  Joe Simitian, chairman of the Select Committee, made clear last Saturday, May 14, that he anticipates that the Committee’s efforts will wrap up in several months.  Without the Select Committee, there is no body representing the entire mid-Peninsula which can hold the FAA accountable for immediate and ongoing noise reduction.  The problem needs an ongoing, iterative process, in which a change is made, tested, implemented, reviewed and revised.
  6. Quiet Skies Mid-Peninsula continues to object to the notion that residents are expected to offer specific solutions to the FAA for reducing aircraft noise.  We believe that this is a strategy by the FAA to deflect criticism of the problems they created with NextGen.  In July 2015, the FAA committed to delivering proposed solutions, but never did.  Now, instead of the hundreds of possible solutions that they–the experts–might have conceived of, the FAA will only consider the handful proposed by mere mortals living in the Metroplex.  Yet they can simply dismiss any of these proposals with the criticism that it lacks the mysterious quality of  “overall fly-ability”.

For more information read the letter sent by Sky Posse Palo Alto.  Read also the analysis on the Quiet Skies Los Altos Hills web site.

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