County may put lid on 'noisy aircraft' | March 8, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - March 8, 2017

County may put lid on 'noisy aircraft'

by Barbara Wood

In what San Mateo County officials say is an effort "to address community concerns regarding San Carlos Airport noise," the county has drafted an ordinance that would limit the hours and numbers of "noisy aircraft" landing or taking off from the airport.

A preliminary draft of the ordinance was sent out Friday, March 3, to airport users and posted on the San Carlos Airport Association's website. It says aircraft meeting the county's definition of "noisy" would be banned from using the airport from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., each operator (such as Surf Air, a charter company, a flight school or a private individual) would be allowed only one takeoff and one landing.

Airplanes rated at a noise measurement of 74.5 decibels or louder are considered "noisy" in the draft ordinance.

Among those affected by the curfew would be Surf Air, a startup airline that has engendered noise complaints since soon after it started flying into the San Carlos Airport in June 2013. Surf Air's passengers pay one monthly price for unlimited flights on turboprop passenger planes, and the airline has steadily expanded since 2013.

A list of aircraft posted on the airport users website shows 17 types of small airplanes not considered noisy, and 65 more that would be affected by the curfew, including all varieties of the Pilatus PC-12 flown by Surf Air.

According to its current schedule, Surf Air now has 11 night flights that arrive or depart between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. each week, which would have to be eliminated or rescheduled under the draft ordinance.

Surf Air also currently has four weekday morning arrivals between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and four more in evenings between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., which would have to be reduced to one a day in each time period.

It has five weekday morning departures between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and five weekday evening departures between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. that would have to be reduced to one a day each time period.

An email from airport manager Gretchen Kelly sent out with the draft ordinance says helicopters and jets are not covered by the draft ordinance.

There will be public town hall-style meetings to discuss the curfew proposal as well as hearings by the Board of Supervisors, Ms. Kelly said in the email.

She said the curfew is part of the Aircraft Disturbance Study approved by the Board of Supervisors last March. When the study was approved, county Public Works Director Jim Porter said he hoped to bring a recommended action plan back to the supervisors by last June, but his report on the study has not yet been presented in public.

On the airport association's website, Carol Ford, the president of the association, said its board of directors "has been following the Surf Air problem closely and trying to work with County officials" for the past year.

"The curfew was a surprise to us and is completely unacceptable," she wrote. "We are currently pursuing various responses to the proposed curfew."

David Fleck, an Atherton resident who is on a working group that has been meeting with Surf Air since late 2013, said the curfew is "heading in the right direction." The curfew should have a significant impact on morning and evening aircraft noise, he said, confining higher-volume noisy aircraft flights mostly to the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"It will not generate any relief for the folks who spend time in their yards or homes during the day," however, he said.

Mike Callagy, assistant county manager, said it will be at least 60 days before the ordinance comes to the Board of Supervisors. In the meantime, county officials will work with the pilots' association and meet with residents to get their input.

At the next supervisors meeting, on March 14, he said, the board is scheduled to consider buying software to help track flights in and out of the airport.

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