Thursday, March 03, 2016

Bothered by airplane noise? Tell the Federal Aviation Administration, Laguna Beach City Council urges residents

If Laguna Beach residents have trouble concentrating or are awakened by rumbling from above, the Laguna Beach City Council wants the Federal Aviation Administration to know about it.

In a rare act of activism, the council at its meeting last week urged residents to call or email aviation officials if noise from passing jetliners annoys them.

"One of the things that helps us with the FAA is when we have data points," Councilman Robert Zur Schmiede said. "The way we get data points is when people call and complain or email and complain."

Airplane noise complaints are nothing new in Laguna. The city has relayed residents' concerns to the FAA for the last couple of years, but one South Laguna homeowner said she has noticed an uptick in noise since October.

"The nonstop airplanes over my home continue," Michele Monda told the council.

Monda said that for three straight mornings last fall, she tallied an average of 12 to 15 flights passing overhead in 40 minutes or less each day. Planes begin departing from the airport at 7 a.m.

"That had not happened before," Monda said in a follow-up phone interview.

Monda is concerned that not only are flights getting increasingly close to Laguna Beach but that commercial jets could be flying at lower altitudes. When she recently took off on a flight from John Wayne, Monda said, she could see the pool, table and chairs in her yard.

"You're telling me at 8,000 feet my eyes could identify that?" she said.

Monda said she asked the FAA if anything had changed regarding the routes of departing jets or the altitude at which they fly when crossing over land and didn't get a clear answer.

Agency spokesman Ian Gregor wrote in an email to the Coastline Pilot that the FAA has not changed any procedures at John Wayne.

Monda's concerns come at a time when the FAA is considering new air traffic procedures at airports nationwide, including John Wayne, which is located on unincorporated land surrounded by Newport Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana.

The FAA wants to replace traditional ground-based air traffic procedures with satellite-based technology with its Next Generation Air Transportation System. It is also considering a proposal to narrow flight paths at 11 Southern California airports, including John Wayne.

Gregor maintains that Laguna Beach would be unaffected by these changes.

The agency believes that the changes could save fuel, reduce emissions and delays and shorten flight times by establishing flight paths that are less dispersed than they have been.

Currently, air traffic controllers can direct pilots off standard routes to keep planes safely separated from one another and to make up time, Gregor said.

Under the proposed system, precise takeoff paths would be programmed into the plane's flight plan.

The negative, though, as residents see it is that the system could concentrate flights over residential neighborhoods especially in Newport Beach, parts of which sit below the takeoff zone.

Flights from John Wayne headed east of Las Vegas are supposed to follow the STREL route. Planes ascend over the ocean, turn around and fly over land near the South Laguna and Dana Point border.

The proposed Next Generation flight paths would be "virtually identical" to the current STREL system, Gregor said, adding the FAA still needs to approve the satellite method, possibly this summer.

Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman said during the meeting that the noise residents are hearing could stem from pilots not adhering to the fixed route and turning around earlier, thus moving away from STREL path and over more of Laguna.

"It comes down to the end of the flight when [pilots] brag about, 'We're early,'" Iseman said. "One of the ways they get to be early is turn around in a hurry. Our problem could be easily solved by flying out just a little bit longer. We're talking about seconds longer before they turn around."

The FAA's top priority is safety, Gregor said.

"During heavy volume times, it often is not possible to keep all planes in one stream," Gregor said. "So [air traffic] controllers will [move] them to maintain an efficient flow of traffic while keeping aircraft the required distance from one another."

Iseman and Zur Schmiede formed a subcommittee to study the issue and are working with city staff and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) to address residents' concerns.

Residents can report low-flying aircraft to the FAA's Long Beach office at (562) 420-1755. To report airplane noise, contact the FAA's noise ombudsman at (202) 267-3521 or

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