County will look into San Carlos Airport noise problems
Supervisors approve subcommittee
by Barbara Wood / Almanac
A Surf Air employee pushes a bag cart away after passengers boarded a flight to Santa Barbara at San Carlos Airport on Nov. 22, 2013. Michelle Le/The Almanac
San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley says that the county employees trying to run the San Carlos airport have been spending so much of their time dealing with complaints about noisy aircraft that they are finding it hard to get any other work done. “It’s a very serious issue for them,” he said.
In an attempt to find out if there is anything that can be done to ease the problems, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved on Sept. 22 a subcommittee to “assess and develop solutions to address the impact of increased air traffic at the San Carlos Airport.”
Supervisor Horsley and Supervisor Warren Slocum, whose districts are both under the airport’s flight path, will be on the subcommittee.
Supervisor Horsley in his proposal also asked for the subcommittee to “contact and work with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop solutions to address air traffic impacts and to review capital planning at the airport.”
Atherton Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis, who has been on a working group meeting with Surf Air for the past two years, thanked the supervisors for agreeing to work on the problems caused by the airport traffic.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation today” to the board for agreeing to form the subcommittee and working “to develop solutions to the ever growing impact of air traffic,” Ms. Lewis said. She said she hopes the county will “work with the FAA and the San Carlos Airport to bring peace over our skies and help solve these issues.”
Just how bad the problem has become was pointed out to the supervisors by North Fair Oaks resident Adam Ullman. He said that figures show that in 2013, there were 219 flights going over north Atherton and his neighborhood. Today there are 834 flights “from 6 in the morning until after 11 o’clock at night,” he said. “The issue is getting worse and worse,” he said.
After the meeting Mr. Ullman said the numbers are for total flights arriving at the San Carlos Airport flying over north Atherton for one month, May, of 2013 and of 2015.
Mr. Ullman said that while “the FAA has made it very clear that noise is up to the local counties and municipalities to deal with,” the county currently only has a voluntary noise policy that clearly is not working.
“We need you to do more,” he said. “We need you to protect us.”
The subcommittee will try to figure out, Supervisor Horsley said, “what authority do we have – what can we do?”
The subcommittee will probably spend some time with attorneys and other experts who have experience dealing with the FAA and aviation law, Mr. Horsley said. “This is something that our county counsel doesn’t deal with on a regular basis,” he said.
The complaints have been increasing as Surf Air, a small commuter airline that began flying in and out of the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, has steadily increased its San Carlos flights.
Surf Air, which charges a monthly fee for “all-you-can-fly” use, now has 115 scheduled weekly round-trip flights that use the San Carlos Airport – 20 round-trips each weekday, five on Saturdays and 10 on Sundays. The airline recently announced it has doubled its membership in the past nine months and will be buying more planes.
Surf Air’s flight path goes directly over Palo Alto, Atherton and North Fair Oaks as it approaches the San Carlos Airport, and residents in that flight path say the Surf Air’s turboprop planes are even noisier than jets.
Atherton officials and county residents have been pushing the county to do more about the noise issue since soon after Surf Air began operating from the San Carlos Airport.
The latest request came in a Sept. 11 letter from the Atherton City Council demanding action on the airport noise issue. The letter, addressed to Tom Madalena, who is in charge of airport land use planning for the City/County Association of Governments, said there is “a devastating disconnect between San Carlos Airport Operations and the health, safety and welfare of the impacted communities.”
The letter asked the airport and the Board of Supervisors to “take immediate and proactive steps to limit and mitigate the expansion impacts of the airport operations on the surrounding communities.” The letter also asks that the supervisors hold a public meeting “to hear and take action on this issue.”
“It is time that the County Board of Supervisors stand with its citizenry to address the issue,” the letter says.