Friday, October 2, 2015

Cape Air Says Noise Abatement Rules Are Being Followed

Responding to recent complaints from West Tisbury residents about excessive noise from air traffic over the summer, the chief pilot for Cape Air said this week that the regional airline follows voluntary noise abatement rules whenever possible.

“We are well versed in noise abatement procedures,” David O’Connor told the Gazette in a telephone interview.

Three weeks ago two residents from Vineyard Meadow Farms brought their concerns about overhead noise from air traffic to the West Tisbury selectmen. David Stein and Harry Geller presented the board with a detailed report they said was based on data gathered from flights near their homes from early June to September.

According to Mr. Stein, 66 aircraft flew over the residential area. He estimated some flights went over his home at an altitude of 200 feet, climbing under full power. Most of the flights he recorded were Cape Air flights, and a few were private aircraft.

Both men told the board they believed that voluntary noise abatement procedures were not being followed. Since then, the chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission has scheduled time for airport neighbors to voice their concern at an upcoming commission meeting. Neighbors say they are encouraged by the effort of the airport commission and others to listen and work toward a solution.


Meanwhile, this week Mr. O’Connor, the chief pilot for the Island’s only year-round airline, said the information compiled by Mr. Stein is not completely accurate.

After checking electronic flight records, which document departure times and arrival times, but not the flight path of the aircraft, he said there is a discrepancy between the Cape Air data and the records Mr. Stein compiled.

“I concluded he was either mistaken in his count of planes, or his perception of where they were,” Mr. O’Connor said.

About 50 pilots fly Cape Air planes out of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport during the summer. Mr. O’Connor said after a conversation with Mr. Stein in August, he reminded the pilots of the noise abatement procedures.

“I like to think our pilots listen to me. I think periodic reminders help. I don’t know if there was less compliance before,” the chief pilot said.

He offered several scenarios where pilots would be required to fly over residential neighborhoods rather than observe voluntary noise abatement procedures, which route aircraft over sparsely populated areas as they climb to cruising altitude.

He said the most frequent scenario is when pilots are flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), using electronic instruments to navigate. Low visibility in rain or fog, or a low cloud ceiling are the most common weather conditions that require instrument flight rules. Pilots must file a flight plan, and follow it, even if the weather clears. Also, it may be clear at departure, but stormy at the flight destination, which would require instrument flight rules along the entire air route. Under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), pilots navigate by sight, and have wide latitude to choose their own course. Pilots flying under instrument flight rules must follow assigned courses.

“When you’re flying under IFR, you’re required by law to fly the heading assigned by air traffic control,” Mr. O’Connor said. “You can’t decide on your own.”

Cape Air has the option of flying under visual flight rules in clear weather, but many commercial carriers and small jets, must fly under instrument flight rules at all times.

Another factor is President Obama’s Island visits. When the President is on the Island, almost all aircraft are required to operate under instrument flight rules, according to Mr. O’Connor. The Secret Service coordinates with air traffic controllers.

“I think those factors are very much in play,” Mr. O’Connor said. “The President might be on the move, and they tell you go this way, that way, or the other way.” Mr. Stein, also a pilot, said he understands aircraft flying under instrument flight rules may not follow noise abatement procedures.

“We may not get down to zero, but if we could get the number of playing not complying with noise abatement procedures down to three or four a day, rather than 15 a day, or 25 a day in the summer,” he said.

Mr. Stein said he is encouraged that airport management and the airport commission will take up the concerns.

“The airport is looking into a number of proactive steps and possible solutions to address the noise issues that face the airport,” said assistant general manager Deborah Potter in an email.

Airport commission chairman Myron Garfinkle said he has already discussed noise issues with he FAA, and will work with airport neighbors.

“No matter what the town or the city the airport is in says, the ultimate arbiter is the FAA,” Mr. Garfinkle said. “We have looked at the noise footprint. I don’t know what we can expect from the FAA, but I do know as a neighbor, we’re going to do everything we can. I can understand the frustration of the people involved, if they’ve been trying to get people and not had any response.”

Mr. Garfinkle, an experienced pilot, said he is aware of both sides of the noise abatement dilemma, including pilots who use full power soon after take off.

“An airport makes noise, airplanes make noise,” he said. “You want to get altitude so you’re safe, and you want to get altitude to be quiet.”

Mr. Stein contends that aircraft noise has increased dramatically in recent years. FAA data shows an increasing number of flights to and from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport over the past four years, but air traffic is still far below its peak more than five years ago.

In 2011, there were 39,860 operations, which the FAA defines as an aircraft taking off, landing, or crossing over the end of the runway. In 2012 the number of operations increased to 42,008; in 2013 it was 46,583, and last year it climbed to 47,360. In five of the seven years from 2004 to 2010, there were more than 50,000 operations at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, peaking in 2010 with 59,087.

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