Ever since Lindbergh Field was dedicated in 1928, there have been outcries over noisy aircraft over San Diego neighborhoods. But a new rapprochement between recently tone deaf aviation officials and irritated residents in the flight paths may now be in the offing. After two years of Federal Aviation Administration missteps in implementing new flight patterns, the agency and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority have hired consultants to work with local residents to determine changes to alleviate some of the latest noise problems.
As the residents and the consultants work together, the FAA has a word of warning. No change shall be accepted that causes noise to neighborhoods that haven’t yet been hearing it. The FAA might have thought to set the example.
“We bought and moved into our La Mesa home in June 2015,” says Marie Knox, “and there weren’t any commercial airliners that we could hear or see over or near the house. We could see them out our front window, a good distance south, going in to land, but could barely hear them. Then, in November of last year, the week of Thanksgiving, everything changed overnight.
“Suddenly, the planes were flying low over the house and over the yard, and not just a little bit. It was an assault. At first, my husband, Scott, thought it must have been due to the heavy travel week. He worked days and did not hear what I did. But on Wednesday morning he was home and went out to get the paper at the bottom of the stairs leading to our front door and, as he was coming back up, a [Boeing] 737 blew over the house. He couldn’t believe how abrupt and low and loud it was.
“He came into the house and, without saying anything to me, he called the La Mesa police and said we just had an incident, that there was something wrong. He told them the plane was so low he thought it was going to hit the house. ‘It is unsafe,’ he told them, and wanted to know what was going on.”
The police told Knox they had heard a few other such reports but that the Federal Aviation Administration was the place to get answers. So Knox called the FAA in Miramar and spoke to someone in its Flight Standards Office who stated right off that she didn’t own the airspace above her home. “He also told me the plane didn’t do anything wrong,” she says, “and that anything above 1000 feet was legal. The trouble is that we live on a 500-foot ridge.”
Knox next spoke to Sjohnna Knack from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. What Knox was hearing, Knack replied, was due to a change in flight paths resulting from a new satellite navigation system the FAA was installing. “We all want it to go back to the way it was before,” said Knack, “but that’s not going to happen.”
“I then realized that I needed to educate myself,” says Knox. “So I started researching, and the first thing I discovered was that all over the U.S. people are suffering from the noise and starting to fight back. Then I saw that it had started in San Diego, too, two years earlier.”
Knox figured that not all of her neighbors would react as strongly against the noise as she did. When she brought the issue up on Nextdoor.com, a number of them said they paid it hardly any attention and others were fully aware of it but were not bothered. Quite a few were just as angry about it as she was. But one man, says Knox, told her to keep her mouth shut about it. She thought he might have been afraid public exposure would drag down property values in the area.
It was in late spring, 2015, that San Diego County began to learn the implications of satellite navigation as the future of its airspace. The region’s air traffic is now governed by the Southern California Metroplex, one of a multitude of similar systems that the FAA is establishing across the U.S. to make air travel more efficient. Global positioning technology has taken the place of ground and radar based ping-ponging of planes across the country.
“The FAA must have published a little something in the Union-Tribune that gave their official notice, but the announcement largely went undiscovered,” says Casey Schnoor, a leading Point Loma aircraft noise activist. “They then gave their public presentation in Barrio Logan about a plan that will have impacts immediately around the circumference of Lindbergh Field, communities such as Loma Portal, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, and Hillcrest.”
In August that summer, Schnoor and other Point Loma residents became aware that one of the proposals in the plan was to change a departure route that would affect the peninsula. The FAA was planning to remove a waypoint called LOWMA on Point Loma’s southern tip. Waypoints are virtual locations in the air that commercial jet aircraft are required to fly around as part of their formal departure routes.
“The idea of removing that waypoint got our attention,” Schnoor tells me, “because now aircraft heading east were going to be free, at their own discretion, to turn back over Point Loma, the Cabrillo National Monument, Fort Rosecrans, the Wooded Area and Sunset Cliffs.
At that time, Schnoor says he began a six-month immersion into everything airport noise. “Each community has a different set of issues,” he tells me.
“My Point Loma neighbors started talking, too, and eventually, I put a petition on Change.org that said the FAA plan wasn’t right and that it had to be changed. My gut told me we’d get 300 to 500 signatures; we got 3500 and counting. The petition prompted the FAA to push the Airport Authority to hold a public meeting at Liberty Station on a hot summer night, close to 90 degrees in temperature. Estimates were that 800 to 1000 people turned up in the meeting hall that night on very short notice.”