County efforts to engage residents affected by San Carlos Airport noise got off the ground Thursday with a public information meeting aimed at gathering community input on a noise abatement study.
The Thursday session follows regional efforts to address resident complaints of disruptive noise from San Carlos-bound flights over the last four years. Following an increase in Surf Air charter flights in and out of the county-run airport, a working group including county officials, staff from the offices of U.S. representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, airport staff and Surf Air representatives formed to work with agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration to mitigate the impact of the small-aircraft, members-only airline’s flights.
After a six-month trial from July to January of a flight route directing Surf Air flights in and out of the San Carlos Airport over the Bay instead of Peninsula neighborhoods, officials are taking a step back. In January, the FAA began an environmental review of what was called the Bayside Visual Approach. In March, San Mateo County officials announced their consideration of new noise abatement policies including restricting the number and timing of flights from 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. for certain aircraft.
As officials probe further into the network of agencies monitoring crowded Peninsula skies, community members expressed frustration with the lengthy process and abounding questions as to how the airport’s many aircraft, which include helicopters, small aircraft and charter planes, could be better coordinated to be less noisy.
Foster City resident Chris Chan said the noise from airplanes flying over his house, which he has owned since 2001, hasn’t always been as disruptive as it is now. He attended Thursday’s session with his wife, Julie, to represent residents north of the airport as the county embarks on a federal noise compatibility study.
“We want to know where we are, what we are studying and what are the options?” he said.
Though officials assured residents the study, which includes four more opportunities for the public to provide input, would take 18 to 24 months to complete, Chan worried it would be closer to five years before residents saw any relief from the noise. He said he was particularly interested in how the study would evaluate the effect of planes taking off from the airport, which he said are routed over Redwood Shores and Foster City and are noisier than planes that are landing.
Julie Chan said she has filed complaints about the noise they have experienced, but couldn’t be sure what was being done with the information since she hasn’t received much of a response from the airport.
“It just goes into some system,” she said.
Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly has previously confirmed that though her staff, who collects resident complaints, manages the airport’s on-the-ground activities, they pass complaints along to the FAA, which manages the air traffic control tower at the airport.
Chan said it has been difficult to follow the public engagement process, and hoped to continue to represent residents north of the airport as officials gather information for the study. The input from residents is expected to highlight existing concerns and project future issues so officials can explore a range of solutions, one of which may include updated zoning compatible with noise for underdeveloped areas, according to county officials.
John McClean and Heidi LeBlanc said the airplane noise where they live in North Fair Oaks worsened significantly when the Bayside Visual Approach trial ended in January, making them believe the noise they hear can be attributed to Surf Air flights. McClean also said it has been difficult to find answers to the noise they have been experiencing, which has led him to wonder about the interests of the various parties involved.
“My view is that this study is an attempt to push things out,” he said.
After learning more about the study’s timeline, the two were not hopeful they would get any clarity on how the noise would be mitigated soon.
“The impression we’re coming away from this is this is going to be a long, drawn-out process,” said LeBlanc.
San Carlos resident Tim Hilborn was especially concerned with the helicopter noise he has heard from his residence on Holly Street. Though he hoped to learn more about directions helicopter pilots had been given in recent months, he said he came away from Thursday’s session with more questions.
“I think they’re kicking the can down the road,” he said.
For Susan Walker, who lives in Redwood Shores, advocating for the county’s proposed curfew limiting flights from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. was paramount. She was encouraged by a response to her questions by an official, who said the curfew could go into effect, subject approval from county officials, as the study continues.
Broad restrictions on flight patterns at the airport were not well received by those using the airport for recreational and instructional flight practice. Among those voices advocating for further investigation before the restrictions are imposed were a handful from the United Flying Club, a group of some 30 pilots who share ownership of two small aircraft to fly recreationally.
Peter Gum, the United Flying Club’s secretary treasurer, said his group, which represents a cross section of pilots from a wide variety of ages and income levels, has always made an effort to respect the needs of the surrounding community when they fly.
“We are in support of those neighbors and as a community we would like to do what we can to help abate those concerns,” he said. “Our issue is if there is an overarching umbrella requirement, such as curfews or decibel levels, then it impacts everyone.”
Gum said he hoped county officials would use the study’s findings to target solutions that addressed specific sources of noise instead of using strategies that limit flights for every airplane using the airport.
County officials are expected to review mitigation measures, including the proposed curfew and restrictions, in July.
Visit public.govdelivery.com/accounts/CASMATEO/subscriber/new and select “San Carlos Airport — FAA Part 150 Noise Study” from the list of available topics to be added to a mailing list about this issue.
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