A woman from Loma Portal turned to the 40 or so La Jolla residents who came to a meeting Wednesday night (February 16) on Harbor Drive to complain about low-flying and late air traffic from Lindbergh Field. "Welcome to our world," she said. "Sorry that you've joined us."
Late last year, the Federal Aviation Administration changed flight paths out of San Diego to reduce fuel and make the airport more efficient. About 275 flights arrive at Lindbergh Field every day, according to FAA statistics. The FAA decided that the impact of the changes is "of no significant impact."
La Jolla residents don't see it that way. Their concerns are with noise that is being attributed to so-called early turns, when aircraft flying out of San Diego International Airport turn off the course set by the FAA to try to contain the noise of jet engines pushing hard to gain altitude. But they say they count far more loud aircraft every day than match the relatively low number of early turns.
"The noise we hear is not isolated incidents," said Maria Jenness, who lives in La Jolla. "It's one after another after another. It's constant noise. Every three, four, five minutes there's an airplane. There was one that came so close that I could read the logo on the tail: it was Southwest."
More planes violated curfew by taking off or landing after 11:30 p.m. and before 6:30 a.m. in 2016 than ever before: 86. If the numbers from January 2017 — when 8 missed curfew — are an indicator, 2017 may break that record. Fines for curfew violations also set a new record, with airlines fined $564,000 for those violations. That's almost four times the previous year's fines.
But the curfew violations seem to be a small part of the problem in La Jolla.
"About 100 flights leave the airport every day and fly over Bird Rock and a hundred go over La Jolla Shores," La Jolla resident Leonard Gross said. "This may require a rethink of what it means when we talk about airport noise."
La Jollans say that more aircraft are flying over La Jolla on the way out — they don't believe it's just curfew violators and early turns. The airport recorded 1566 complaints from Bird Rock in December and January, though 1086 came from a single household. Part of the problem, they say, is that La Jolla's topography forms a natural amphitheater where the noise rebounds and echoes, causing "cascading noise."
"We are not talking about missed turns, we're talking about a systemic problem,” resident Matthew Price said. "You have a thousand noise complaints from La Jolla where last year you had none."
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority can't tell the airlines and the FAA how to run their business, facilitator Heidi Gantwerk cautioned. She encouraged residents to continue to thoroughly document the flights that are roaring over their homes using an app called Webtrak. But that suggestion led to a debate of how accurate the app is, since it shows most of the flights going over Point Loma and Mission Beach.
Although La Jolla residents may now be eligible for the airport authority's Quieter Home program, which provides sound-muffling doors and windows, Beatriz Pardo was not impressed.
"You are retrofitting homes so people can stay inside," she said. "But this is a beach community, an outdoors community," she said. "Telling us to stay inside where you can make it quiet destroys our quality of life."
(corrected 2/17, 5:10 p.m.)