Surely there is a way for the Federal Aviation Administration to address the sea-change in noise impact caused by a small airline's eight flights per day over North Fair Oaks and Atherton into the San Carlos Airport.
This small, public-use airport has traditionally served privately owned recreational aircraft, but now is hosting a small airline called Surf Air, which flies noisy, single-engine turboprops eight times a day on a northbound incoming route that often follows Middlefield Road on final approach. Homeowners along the route say they never experienced any noise impact before, but now can't hear themselves think when a Surf Air plane is descending into San Carlos. They are livid and have rightly been taking their concerns to the Atherton City Council, the owners of Surf Air, San Carlos Airport officials and anyone else who will listen.
The problem is that when the Surf Air planes line up at 2,000 feet over Palo Alto, their noisy northbound descent reverberates on either side of Middlefield Road. The lower the aircraft fly, the more noise impact that is felt over a wide swath of homes below. Residents also are quick to point out that there are numerous local schools along the route, including Menlo-Atherton High, Encinal elementary, Summit Preparatory and Taft School, near Bay Road.
Some strategies to try to mitigate the noise have been put in place. For example, Surf Air representatives and the FAA agreed that whenever possible, the planes would use a visual flight approach into San Carlos on a route east of Middlefield Road, which will move most of the noise over some other neighborhoods and uninhabited areas or the Bayshore Freeway. At a Dec. 9 meeting with Atherton officials and some 75 neighbors, Surf Air representatives said its pilots were instructed "not to fly over the same house in the same day," when possible. These are steps in the right direction, although weather conditions must be right for pilots to descend using the visual flight approach.
By all reports, Surf Air is an innovative start-up airline that in particular appeals to business travelers who fly frequently to other California cities. Rather than a ticket for every flight, fliers purchase an "all-you-can-fly" membership. And boarding is simple, with no security checks or baggage fees. For the right type of passenger, Surf Air is a perfect way to reach Santa Barbara, Burbank and other Southern California cities.
But while Surf Air is a way for some travelers to avoid the challenges of flying out of San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose, the airline should not be permitted to do so while damaging the quality of life of those beneath its glide-path into San Carlos Airport. And a solution is even more important since Surf Air has announced that it may soon double the number of flights per day. We wonder if the airline ever considered other nearby airports, like Palo Alto, for example?
When the San Carlos Airport was built, it was not surrounded by residential development. And even today, residents say prior to Surf Air's arrival, there was rarely, if ever, concerns about noisy traffic. But Surf Air changed all that. We hope the airline and the FAA will hear the neighbors' concerns and approve a permanent remedy that will move Surf Air planes east of Middlefield Road for good.