Consultant skeptical of FAA's interest in reducing aircraft noise

Residents have been complaining of aircraft noise for years.

An airline industry consulting firm, hired by the town of Portola Valley, is skeptical of a Federal Aviation Administration's proposal to analyze noise generated by aircraft crossing the Santa Cruz Mountains on the way into San Francisco International Airport.

In a seven-page letter to the FAA, unanimously approved by the Town Council on Jan. 13, Williams Aviation Consultants of Gilbert, Arizona, used the word "unfortunately" seven times. According to the consultant, the FAA's proposal "unfortunately:"

■ Does not specify completion dates for the FAA's noise analysis.

■ Does not specify which aircraft operations procedures would be analyzed.

■ Does not show intentions of including the Portola Valley, Woodside and Ladera communities in the analysis of the area around the aircraft navigation beacon in the hills above Woodside.

■ Does not account for the unready state of technology expected to lessen noise-generating routines by pilots.

■ Does not commit the FAA to involving itself with the public, at least not during the first phase of the initiative.

In a staff report, interim Town Manager Debbie Pedro put the cost of the letter at $3,500, about a fourth of a $13,000 budget approved by the council to engage a consultant skilled in the language and practices of the airline industry and its regulator, the FAA.

Years of complaints

Residents in and around Portola Valley have been complaining to the FAA and airport officials for many years about the altitude, frequency and noise of commercial aircraft flying into SFO.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, extracted an agreement with the FAA in 2001 that requires arriving aircraft to stay at least 8,000 feet above sea level when passing over the navigation beacon in the Woodside hills. But flights continue to violate that minimum altitude despite another letter from Ms. Eshoo in 2005.

Air-traffic authorities have argued that noise management is secondary to traffic management in a crowded airspace, and that air-traffic controllers need flexibility in three-dimensional space in order to keep aircraft at a safe distance from each other.

An analysis of 2009-12 data by Portola Valley resident Dr. Tina Nguyen, Woodside resident Jim Lyons and others showed 88 percent of flights overflying the beacon at altitudes below 8,000 feet, and about 28 percent below 6,000 feet. An experienced commercial pilot, asked in 2012 about this specific behavior, told the Almanac that noise-abatement policies such as an 8,000-foot minimum are a low priority for pilots and air-traffic controllers.

In 2014, the FAA released a draft environmental impact report about plans to optimize use of the airspace in Northern California, including "new" routes into major Bay Area airports. The report projected airport arrival routes out to 2019 and found no significant noise impacts on the ground, a claim disputed by local activists.

Portola Valley council members have made efforts toward a dialogue by attending airport community roundtable discussions, by visiting an air-traffic control center, and by spending an evening in a workshop with FAA officials, all to no apparent avail.

In 2015, Ms. Eshoo and two of her Congressional colleagues from the Peninsula questioned the FAA about noise issues, and the agency responded in November with its proposal to "address noise concerns" in the four counties west of SFO.

The FAA invited comments on their proposal, and the Portola Valley council asked Williams Aviation to draft a point-by-point response.

Councilwoman Ann Wengert complimented Dr. Nguyen on her efforts in working with Williams. They did "as good a job as they could with a report that wasn't designed to really be commented on in the way we were asked to do," Ms. Wengert said.

"Is there really going to be the ability to impact what the FAA has already embarked on?" she asked rhetorically. "There is a fair amount of cynicism, given (the FAA's) past history. ... I think we did the best we could do in making sure we gave Anna sufficient ammunition in her efforts on our behalf."

Go to this link and turn to Page 117 for the full report, including the letter and the FAA proposal.

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6 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:08 am

Last time I checked, the FAA's mandate isn't about noise abatement to make life more comfortable on the ground. It's about traffic flow and safety for the planes in the air!

What a silly tactic: demand an FAA "review", get the review scheduled, then hire a consultant to cynically slam the review before it even happens. Even though we all know the chances of success were slim and none!

Our tax dollars at work.

8 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm

So, Matt, we should just roll over to the FAA. The fight paths are designed to save money, and the heck with the rest of us who are bothered by the noise.

I AM very bothered by the noise. I, like most people, do require a good night of sleep. With planes roaring overhead at all hours of the night--11 pm, 12 am, 12:30, 1:49, 4, 5, 6am and often several planes in succession, my sleep is constantly disrupted. As a result, I'm tired and irritable all day. You, Matt and MPer, can sneer all you like, but loud noise and lack of sleep are bad for people's health. We live (used to live) in a quiet environment, which was part of the area's attraction. If paying high house prices and driving down the Peninsula and out of the city noise doesn't give us some peace and quiet, then it's no longer worth paying high real estate prices.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:27 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

As Matt said, the FAA's mandate doesn't involve noise abatement. It's about the SAFE and efficient movement of aircraft. If they can reduce some noise while they're at it, maybe, but it's not a priority.

Said it before and I'll say it again, all this posturing by politicians is just that. The FAA isn't going to do what they say. Yet the politicians continue to try this nonsense so they can be seen to be "doing something" when there isn't a snowball's chance in hell they'll get anything done. But, hey, they can still say they "did something." Right?

2 people like this
Posted by Maggie
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Sad to say, the consultants are right about the FAA's indifference to the noise concerns. We are not the only areas complaining about the FAA's new flight paths. Other neighborhoods in other states are similarly affected and are also complaining. In its arrogance, the FAA seems to think that complaints will fade away and that they are not answerable to the public that pays their salaries. The complaints will continue to be made by people who realize the negative impact extreme noise has on society.

Consultants were hired because we need accurate and verifiable information. We also need people who are qualified to interact knowledgeably with a government agency.

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Clearly some people are more sensitive to noise than others. I have far more flights, and at lower altitudes, over my home than there are over Portola Valley and the airplane noise simply does not bother me.

The only way to eliminate the noise problem for everyone is to shut down the airports - I doubt that will ever happen.

In the meantime new aircraft are getting much quieter ( the Airbus 380, a huge airplane, is quieter than almost any jet passenger airplane and carries more passengers) and new technologies will gradully allowed low pwered continuous decsnt approaches.

Like this comment
Posted by matt
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm


I'm not suggesting we should "roll over" to the FAA, as you say. What I am suggesting is that it's a complete and utter waste of our money to pay a consultant to poison the water before any real dialogue can occur. You're already facing long odds with the FAA, not because they're an evil government org as you imply, but because they have greater concerns that in my opinion, trump yours. Antagonizing the very people you're asking for support is not a smart approach -- ask the folks occupying that federal ranch in Oregon.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 7:16 pm

On another note, Was outside enjoying our beautiful weather and noticed 20 Surf Air flights again. Had not been a problem while I'm stuck inside during the cold and rain, A sign of things to come when the nice weather comes back this spring. Be ready.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


ear plugs. They work.

6 people like this
Posted by Get A Grip Folks
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 27, 2016 at 9:22 pm

[Part removed. Please make your point without negative characterizations of other posters.]

Lived here since 1956, and these airplanes fly right over my house here in Atherton and yes I do hear them but it doesn't bother me one hoot. Jeez Louise get a grip. I even hear the train at night and I am at least a mile away...
What does bother me a lot are the crows cawing at 5 o'clock in the morning until about 10 o'clock a.m. and the incessant noise of the leaf blowers all around. Each at the flies over last about 15 seconds at most but crows and leaf blowers are constant....

1 person likes this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:43 pm

I'm with you on the crows, open season I say.

2 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:56 pm


I've lived under this fight path (at lower elevations than PV) since 1971 and have yet to awoken by ant plane overhead and most of my widows are old.

If it such a bother, get double pained windows or ear plugs.

The train is way louder and even that isn't so bad.

As always, there is a simple solution. Cash out of your over priced home an move some place far far from an airport. I am sure you will find something else to complain about when you get there. Highway noise, animals a distant train.

You live in a major metro area, not the country.

2 people like this
Posted by surf air silliness
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:00 pm


So you are complaining that you can hear planes overhead while outside. WOW!! You live near three airports! Why are you surprised or even phased. I hear planes all the time. No big deal.

1 person likes this
Posted by Matt Richter
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:22 am

I live up by Alice's Restaurant. I've lived here for over 15 years. I've noticed two trends: One, the airplane engines are getting much better so each plane has the potential to be quieter. Two, the number of flights that are low with really intrusive noise are rising.

We all get that air traffic needs to be safe. What those of us that advocate action are looking for is not sacrificing safety for our peace and quite, but that the FAA should make flights safe WHILE minimizing impacts to the residents that this effects. Some of the flights are really, really loud. So loud that I can't talk on a phone inside as they pass overhead. Some of this is altitude, and some is approach technique and how the engines are throttled during descent and approach.

To say that the problem isn't important or is non-existent ignores the reality that I and others live through. The FAA is tone deaf on this issue. If one digs into how the FAA accounts for noise, it's not good math and they skew their own numbers downward. The plane tracking mechanism that is available to actually get the flight number of particular planes is designed, as far as I can tell, to make it close to impossible to use, and I've watched planes mysteriously disappear from tracking when they approach the 4000 foot level, only to reappear when they have gone over the ridge into the bay area proper. There is an 8 min delay on the tracker, supposedly to that one can get a pen and paper to log have something to write with, and there is no playback. It's 1970 tech at best.

I'd also like to suggest that the impact may have something to do with the age of the home. My house was built in 1974, We have lots of single pane glass windows. These don't sound insulate was well as modern construction.

This may not be a real problem to some of you, but I've noticed it, and at times, it's a real impact on our lives. Maybe some must be tolerated, maybe not. But the way the FAA is behaving, it's as though they don't want to know, don't want us to know, and don't care.

Look, SFO was mandated to have noise monitoring stations around the airport because of past sound issues that got enough traction that local governments actually effected some change. But getting response is like pulling teeth. Go ahead, call up SFO, and request that the mobile sound measurement equipment get deployed to actually measure some data and have them share it with the community. It won't happen. They don't care. Even though they are supposed to, as well as having the equipment, obligation and personnel to respond.

Don't want your tax dollars going to this? Go ahead, write your town council or whatever. But last time I checked, we lived in a representational democracy. If enough of us think it's an issue, the governments we support should be responsive, even if the support of the community isn't unanimous. This is a good allocation of resources compared to much that government spends on.

Like this comment
Posted by Nightmares, I tell ya!
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 29, 2016 at 12:57 pm

The gross hyperbole is stunning - "my sleep is constantly disrupted"

Get a grip.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Yes, we live in a representative democracy. That means the majority isn't forced to endure the wants of the minority. The majority of people in this area don't have a problem with aircraft noise. Most of us understand that we live in close vicinity to three international airports and numerous regional airports. There are going to be planes flying over. A lot of them. No one has a right to aircraft free or aircraft noise free skies.

The FAA's mandate is the safe and efficient movement of aircraft and the promotion of aviation. Not noise reduction. I'm happy if they stick to their mandate thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Jan 29, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Let's all be thankful that we live in such a great area that the biggest "problems" are things like airplane noise, water drainage, and traffic circles. could be a lot worse, right. People on these boards seem to forget that.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is erroneous to claim that the FAA is not concerned with aircraft noise. The most effective way to reducing noise levels is to reduce the levels of noise generated at the source - i.e. at the aircraft.

"Details on FAA Noise Levels, Stages, and Phaseouts

The FAA regulates the maximum noise level that an individual civil aircraft can emit through requiring aircraft to meet certain noise certification standards. Each noise certification standard is designated as a different Stage in the U.S. Stages and noise standards are defined in the Federal Aviation Regulations within the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 36 – Noise Standards: Aircraft Type and Airworthiness Certification (14 CFR Part 36). The FAA advisory circular on the Noise Levels for U.S Certificated and Foreign Aircraft provides noise level data for aircraft certificated under 14 CFR Part 36 and categorizes aircraft into their appropriate "stages". Any aircraft that is certified for airworthiness in the U.S. needs to also comply with noise standard requirements to receive a noise certification. The purpose of the noise certification process is to ensure that the latest available safe and airworthy noise reduction technology is incorporated into aircraft design and enables the noise reductions offered by those technologies to be reflected in reductions of noise experienced by communities. As noise reduction technology matures, the FAA works with the international community to determine if a new stringent noise standard is needed. If so, the international community embarks on a comprehensive analysis to determine what that new standard will be.
Currently, the FAA has aircraft standards up to Stage 4 (Chapter 4 internationally) for jet aircraft. The international community is looking to approve a more stringent standard in 2013 which the FAA will call Stage 5, which will be effective for new type certificates after December 31, 2017 and December 31, 2020, depending on the weight of the aircraft.
For helicopters, the FAA currently has a standard for Stage 2, but is currently working to adopt the latest international standards, called Stage 3. We hope to issue a final rule on Stage 3 helicopters in early 2014.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, in Section 513, had a prohibition on operating certain aircraft weighing 75,000 pounds or less not complying with Stage 3 noise levels, and on July 2, 2013, the FAA published a Final Rule in the Federal Register for the Adoption of Statutory Prohibition the Operation of Jets Weighing 75,000 Pounds or Less That Are Not Stage 3 Noise Compliant. In 1990, Congress passed the Aviation Noise and Capacity Act, which required that by the year 2000 all jet aircraft at civilian airports be Stage 3 aircraft."

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


you are correct. I was referring more to aircraft routing for noise reduction.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Listen to an A380 flying overhead compared to a 747 - there is a huge ground level noise reduction. And the A380 carries more passengers than a 747.

Source reduction is the best way to reduce ground noise levels for everyone.

If you want to make a real difference in ground noise levels then lobby for acceleration of Stage 5 requirements and for the elimination of all Phase 3 aircraft from US operations.

1 person likes this
Posted by Matt Richter
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 30, 2016 at 10:41 am

From SFO's own Fly Quite report for the fourth quarter of 2015 (read it here) there were 4099 events they logged that exceeded their own noise standards.

Web Link

Yes, jets are getting quieter. But to say that it's an optimal situation assumes knowledge that no on here has. How do we know that this is the best compromise for all involved? We don't.

Why does SFO have over 30 noise monitoring station through out the SF Bay area? Is it because the air traffic is as quiet as it can be? And why are none of them (That I saw on the SFO noise abatement site map) along the ridgelines that may be significantly higher altitude than those that are in the flatlands around the bay?

For those that maintain this is a non issue, fine, maybe for you, it is. But in about 20,000 events a year, it's more than SFO and the FAA allow. Is that too much or really good behavior?

Right or wrong, there are many in the SF Bay Area that think that some of the noise events are note-worthy. So much so that over the last 2-3 years groups have self-assembled to improve the reach of their collective voice.

Now I'll admit that maybe there are some or many of the complaintants that may be crying wolf.... Just as there are many who say "All is fine and good" who have no clue about what some others experience.

Personllay, living up on the ridge, when I notice really severe noise events, it seems to be a combination of altitude, plane hardware (older engines are noisier for lots of reasons) and how the particular pilot happens to be flying his or her plane. But to say that all noise events are fine is just wrong. The SFO data shows that to be a false statement.

SFO has a quarterly open meeting about noise issues. This is a good thing. But I would put forward that this would only be needed if a significant amount of people in the flight paths of planes have problems. Heck, for very bad cases, SFO even subsidises the sound insulation of private residences.

Yes, we live in a shared space where many needs have to be balanced. No one has a problem with that. But to say that this is a non-issue ignores the facts on the ground, and the collective voices of many people impacted.

If you go to SFOs noise abatement program web page (Web Link) on the very first page, they say, and I quote:

"Due to an unusually high volume, responses to noise complaints may take up to 4 to 6 weeks." One has to ask why is the volume of complaints unusually high? Is something different than before? Has the mix of considerations and their weighting made changes to how planes come and go from SFO? Something must be different if now, as opposed to before, noise complaints are "unusually high". There may be good reasons, there may not be good reasons. What is wrong with asking for these reasons and their justification?

I've made a noise complaint from time to time. I'd upgrade that statement to say "response to your noise complaint? How does never work for you!"

Actually, I don't want a personal response, I'm just providing data that can be used to flag offending aircraft, pilots or flight paths so that they can do continuous improvement within reasonable bounds. But they say they respond, and from where I sit, that's just factually false in my case.

BTW, looking through the quarterly report, it's interesting to note the distribution of noise violations by airline. Some are much better than others, that's for sure.

For those of you who say this is a non-issue. Where is your data to show that we are at an optimal state of operations that are both safe an low impact with regard to noise? If you have it, share! But just saying it's not a problem for you isn't really usefull. The plural of anecdote is not data! Nor is just saying we all have to get a long and live together so just shut up or move.

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

SFO monitors noise where it is the loudest - near the airport.

Every study that has ever been done of sites farther from the airport shows lower ground noise levels than those near the airport where the sound is constantly monitored.

Web Link

Web Link

Multiple sites studied by Dr. Rindfleisch in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton have shown that none of these sites have ground level noise patterns which equal those of any of the sites being monitored by SFO.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 30, 2016 at 7:05 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"But in about 20,000 events a year..."

How many flights land a year in SFO? So what percentage of those flights are a "problem?"

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 7:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In the same SFO reported (quarterly) cited above for these 4099 noise exceedance events there were 104,708 flight operations at SFO.

So less than 4% of the SFO flights exceeded established noise limits.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 30, 2016 at 7:17 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Based on this information from SFO: Web Link

They land about 35000 flights a month. That's about 420,000 landings a years. So a little more than 4% (rounding up it's 5%) of flights are labeled as problematic. Seems like a huge NON-issue to me.

That's just SFO. There are other flights that go to SJC and OAK that pass over as well which lowers this "problem" percentage even further.

There's your data Matt.

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