Beyond being a mere annoyance for community members, research indicates that aviation noise can disrupt sleep, result in poor academic performance for children and lead to cardiovascular disease, particularly hypertension and stroke. Given the Bay Area’s three major international airports, as well as numerous regional airports, impacts from airplane noise are felt acutely by residents. Because of this a Santa Clara/Santa Cruz Community Roundtable was formed earlier this year, similar to the San Francisco Airport/Community Roundtable, to help address residents’ concerns about the noise pollution.
The Cities Association of Santa Clara County has established a committee of representatives from affected cities to meet monthly with congressional representatives and Federal Aviation Administration officials to “facilitate regional collaboration regarding aircraft noise.” Council Member Kathy Watanabe represents the City of Santa Clara on the Roundtable; Council Member Raj Chahal is an alternate representative. Participating cities include Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Sunnyvale, Capitola and Santa Cruz.
The Roundtable met recently on April 24. FAA representatives gave a presentation to explain some of the safety concerns and other considerations that determine the flight path that a pilot will take. In addition to fuel and air traffic patterns, weather is a major factor influencing the routes that the 50,000 planes that fly in the Bay Area’s airspace everyday will take. Volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and other weather events can cause changes to flight plans and such changes reportedly occur with regularity.
Continuing from a March Roundtable meeting, very technical information was also presented about procedural changes made to air traffic control flight path management and minimum altitude for planes through a particular flightpath. This was shown through highly detailed diagrams used by pilots and aviation specialists. Local representatives and residents present at the meeting asked for specific details about how the changes will impact the noise pollution experienced at ground level as well as the analysis used to determine the changes that were made.
“You’re talking about the impact to people in the sky — safety is very important and I don’t want planes running into each other, but we’re really trying to understand what was the condition on the ground with the current procedure and what is the impact on the ground with the new procedure,” Sunnyvale Council Member Glenn Hendricks asked FAA representatives at the meeting.
Members of the public also spoke, decrying the lack of transparency regarding what is being done to tangibly address noise concerns. One resident told of being awoken three times in quick succession by planes flying late at night, a time when air traffic is relatively low. Another expressed desire that a formal communication channel be established between the SFO Roundtable and the SCSC Roundtable. It was also mentioned that the high level of frustration among Roundtable participants isn’t unique to the Bay Area but is happening across the country.
“We are the most complex airspace in the United States and we need a different model,” said Hendricks. “We need a different engagement model of how we look at and communicate this stuff so people understand the actual impact.”
The FAA has 30 days to respond to questions brought by Roundtable participants and will present answers at the next meeting on May 22. Residents can find more information about the meetings as well as FAQs and a link to file noise complaints at the SCSC Roundtable website.