In the News
September 7, 2016
By Joshua Stewart
After a year of lobbying by Point Loma residents, the Federal Aviation Administration is attempting to keep noisy air traffic away from the peninsula’s neighborhoods and landmarks by adjusting a proposed departure route for eastbound flights out of San Diego International Airport.
However, residents remain concerned about the current flight path for some planes that head south out of the airport and then bank sharply to the east over the finger of land.
“As this relates to the peninsula communities, this is a significant win, but it doesn’t do anything to impact the day-to-day issues,” said Casey Schnoor, a member of an organized group of residents.
The FAA has embarked on a plan to revise arrival and departure routes at airports around the nation to trim costs and aviation fuel expenses. Locally, the agency proposed a change that eliminated a flight “waypoint” southwest of the southernmost tip of Point Loma for outbound flights. That adjustment caused people who live on the peninsula to worry — and protest — that planes headed to destinations east would pass directly over their homes as they flew toward a waypoint over the Silver Strand south of Coronado.
The FAA relented and has added a new waypoint about two miles directly south of Point Loma. The change still allows the FAA’s to streamline arrivals and departures, administration documents say.
"To address public concerns and to confirm that the procedure would continue to meet the purpose and need for the Project, (FAA planners adjusted the route) to include a redundant waypoint," the documents say.
The new waypoint will send aircraft further south of Point Loma than the original proposal and current flights, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. The FAA plans to use this route as much as possible, but there will still be times when planes are sent off the course for safety and efficiency reasons, he said. That brings them closer to residential areas.
While there currently is a waypoint southwest of Point Loma, about 12 percent of all flights that turn south after takeoff are re-routed over the peninsula before heading for eastbound destinations. Gregor said it’s not clear if the new waypoint would cause air traffic control to send more aircraft over the peninsula than before, but controllers will continue to send aircraft off of pre-established routes as needed.
New arrival and departure procedures will be implemented at airports across Southern California starting in November. The FAA is converting from a ground-based navigation system to a satellite-based system. The old procedures, the administration said, required air traffic controllers to occasionally adjust flight paths off of pre-established routes in order to keep enough space between aircraft and to keep planes moving efficiently through heavily-traveled airspace.
An FAA analysis found that the changes proposed last year would not have any impact on the area’s noise levels, but some Point Loma residents were skeptical and said they were certain that their neighborhoods would be polluted by the sound of jet noise. They started showing up by the hundreds at the Airport’s Noise Advisory Committee meetings, created a Facebook page that now has over 1,200 members, flooded the airport’s noise complaint line, and complained that current fights were disturbing Rosecrans National Cemetery. They asked their county, city and federal representatives to intervene.
Some also said that they saw more aircraft over the peninsula and suspected that the proposed new routes had already been secretly implemented.
"They’re definitely louder and it’s probably because they're closer," Melissa Hernholm Danzo, a Point Loma resident said last year as plans for the departure routes were being considered. "There’s no question that they’re" flying at lower altitudes, she said.
The FAA maintains planes on average are actually flying higher and advances in aerospace engineering have made them quieter. After an agreement in the 1990s between the FAA, local elected officials and residents, the airport began monitoring planes that flew over Point Loma at 6,000 feet or less, a figure that was picked because aircraft flying above that altitude do not have a significant noise impact below. On average, planes are at 8,000 feel when crossing the peninsula.
Current figures were not available, but statistics from September 2015 show that about two of every 1,000 flights out of San Diego International fly over Point Loma at 6,000 feet or less.
With the new waypoint in place for departing flights, the residents’ group are going to try and address day-to-day issues related to air traffic noise. Schnoor, the peninsula resident, said they quickly implemented bylaws in order to place a member in a newly-created seat on the airport noise advisory board, and they’ll monitor how the new departure routes are implemented.
They are also trying to meet with air traffic controllers in order to see if there is a way to keep planes from being re-routed over the peninsula, and to reduce the number of missed approaches and "go-arounds" that create more air traffic around San Diego.
"This doesn’t solve all the problems related to flight noise for residents but it’s something the community and elected officials have been working together to achieve," said county Supervisor Greg Cox, a member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said he plans to make sure that aircraft flying in San Diego stick to agreed flight paths. He also criticized the FAA for an "unsettling lack of transparency" during the process of implementing new routes.
The FAA’s Gregor said that some atypical procedures like missed approaches are necessary because of a plane is sitting on a runway as another aircraft is close to landing. They try to stay on established routes as much as possible, but reiterated that sometimes they have to deviate from plans for safety and efficiency reasons, he said.