Palomar Airport advocates address noise concerns

VISTA — A steady torrent of noise complaints has advocates of Palomar Airport working to enforce noise abatement procedures as well as educate the public on airport operations.
Palomar Airport is one of the biggest single-runway airports in the country. Sited in the heart of North County, traffic flies in and out over thousands of homes every day of the week, sometimes at low altitude.
“There are times I could tell you what color the pilots’ eyes are because they are flying that low over our neighborhood,” Vista resident Barbara Boyer said at an outreach meeting in Shadowridge on May 15.
“They come in at night, pretty darn low,” Linda Brent, also of Vista, said. “Are they landing in my backyard over here?”
For years, the number of submitted complaints remained relatively low. After Internet reporting began in 2004, complaints ranged from 50 to 250 depending on the season. Suddenly, in August 2007, reported noise incidents spiked to 550 and have remained elevated ever since.
Strangely, the spike seemed to defy the true noise situation. Airport flights, which peaked in 1993, have dropped to an all-time low over the past two years. A recent analysis by mobile stations showed that the airport’s sound footprint is down 40 percent from the mid-1990s.
On the other hand, the escalation of noise complaints coincided with the establishment of loudairport.com, a noise watchdog group based in Carlsbad. Their site serves as a clearinghouse for airport-related information and facilitates the reporting of noise incidents.
“When you look at how much trouble it is to actually submit a complaint, I don’t think people would do it because it’s such a headache,” Dwight Webster, a spokesman for the group, said. Webster maintained that any single complaint really represented anywhere from 10 to 20 complaints.
Chuck Collins, a member of the Palomar Advocate Advisory Committee, or PAAC, said he had a hard time accepting that, noting that most of the complaints were submitted by just a few individuals lodging a complaint whenever a plane flew overhead. “If we took out three complainers, 80 percent of the complaints would go away,” he said.
Webster countered that 80 percent of the noise issues would go away if pilots adhered to the “Fly Friendly” program, a set of procedures and routes to minimize noise impact to surrounding neighborhoods. Collins said many pilots do follow the program but noted that adherence to the guidelines is strictly voluntary.
“The guy flying at 30 feet above the ground 500 feet off shore, I want to choke him, but he is technically legal in the regulations,” Collins said at the Vista meeting.
Fellow PAAC member Jim Swain pointed out that bad weather and high traffic can also cause planes to travel less-than quiet paths.
“Safety always trumps noise,” he said.
Collins stated that the airport takes all noise concerns seriously. He and other PAAC members have stepped up their meetings with pilots to encourage them to follow the sound abatement procedures. The PAAC also formed a subcommittee May 21 specifically to deal with the noise problem. These are positive developments, according to Webster.
“The airport’s not going away and the people aren’t going away so they should be working together … to alleviate the problem,” Webster said.
More information on Palomar’s noise abatement procedures can be found at www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dpw/airports/noise.html. Noise complaints can also be registered there.

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