Almanac News Mar 3 2016 Article

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County Supervisors have tried to curb Surf Air noise.  This article reports on the failure of Surf Air to make any suggested improvements to their noise generating business model.  The article mentions the planned meeting of March 8, 2016 to discuss these issues.

First published: Thu, Mar 3, 2016 on The Almanac News

Update: Horsley explains county effort to curb Surf Air noise

County supervisors to hold study session March 8 on San Carlos Airport noise problems

by Barbara Wood / Almanac

Surf Air began flying scheduled passenger flights on turboprop planes in and out of the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, and noise complaints started pouring into the airport soon after. (Photo courtesy Surf Air.)

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley said that Tuesday’s board study session on the San Carlos Airport came about only after the county attempted to work collaboratively with Surf Air for nearly three years.

“They really haven’t been able to address any of the issues that our residents are concerned about,” he said.

The county, and others, have been trying to encourage the small commuter airline to voluntarily pursue strategies to reduce the noise its turboprop planes make as they fly over local neighborhoods on the way to and from the San Carlos Airport. Now San Mateo County, which owns and operates the airport, may be ready to go beyond voluntary measures.

Supervisor Horsley said the airline has increased its flights from three a day when it started, to a current 22 inbound and 22 outbound flights a day.

“This is a general aviation airport; we do not want it to become a commercial airport,” Supervisor Horsley said. “We don’t think this little airport was meant to have a carrier like this.”

The county even recently hired a mediator to work with Surf Air in an attempt to get the carrier to limit the number of its flights. Did it work? “No,” Supervisor Horsley said, it did not.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a study session to discuss its options for reducing noise related to the San Carlos Airport when it meets on Tuesday, March 8. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. and the study session is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.

The county has asked residents with concerns about the issue to come to the meeting and share their experiences.

A report on the issue from Director of Public Works James Porter says that the county could hire a consultant “to analyze data, refine noise reduction options, develop a map of complaints, and conduct a survey of impacted residents” for about $150,000. The money would have to come from the county’s general fund budget.

While Surf Air is not actually named in the county’s report, probably because FAA regulations do not allow it to discriminate against any user of the airport, the frustration of working with the airline is broadly hinted at.

“While the County can continue to pursue voluntary or cooperative actions to address community annoyance, these measures are only as effective as the level of cooperation,” the report says. “There are both good and not-so-good reasons for why voluntary programs may not be effective, despite the best efforts of the County.”

Since the measures are voluntary, the report says, the county “cannot require compliance and can do little or nothing to force operations to comply with such measures. When, or if, voluntary measures prove unsuccessful, it is appropriate to look at other mandatory measures that might be more effective.”

The county, and other local officials and residents, have been working with Surf Air since October 2013, just months after Surf Air started flying commuter flights in and out of the San Carlos Airport in June 2013. County supervisors Don Horsley and Warren Slocum helped form an airport noise working group to address the noise complaints about the airline, which operates as a scheduled airline flying small turbo-prop planes.

In addition to the supervisors, the working group includes Atherton officials, airport staff, Atherton and North Fair Oaks residents, and representatives of Surf Air and the pilots’ association. It has met nine times, and Atherton has sponsored two public meetings with Surf Air attended by hundreds of local residents.

Mr. Porter’s report says the group tried measures including: a voluntary curfew during some night and early morning hours, higher altitude approaches, and an automated noise complaint reporting system. In addition, county staff and members of the working group met with operators of airport businesses, state officials and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

A citizens group called Calm The Skies has more than 800 signatures on a petition asking Surf Air to discontinue or re-route its flights.

Despite the measures, the complaints kept coming and Surf Air, which offers members unlimited flights for a monthly fee, kept adding more flights.

Mr. Porter’s staff report says that the increase in the number of complaints about noise is vastly great than the increase in the number of flights in and out of the airport. He said this may be because many of the flights, including those of Surf Air, are considered charter flights, which most often follow a GPS instrument approach to the airport.

This puts them consistently on “a narrow route which does not disperse flights over a larger geographical area,” he wrote, meaning the residents who happen to live under the route have their homes flown over repeatedly. The primary impact is on the residents of East Palo Alto, Atherton, North Fair Oaks and Redwood City, he wrote.

Mr. Porter’s report says residents seem to be more disturbed by the “annoyance and disturbance” of the flights than the loudness, things that are “far more difficult to measure” than the actual noise levels.