Update – Surf Air: New flight path will avoid Midpeninsula

Posted on

April 27, 2016

Route could be flown only with good visibility

by Barbara Wood / Almanac

surf_air_pathSurf Air’s Jim Sullivan provided this map of a new approach route (green line) the airline can take to the San Carlos Airport from near Moffett Field when conditions allow a visual flight rules (VFR) approach. The route that would continue to be used when visibility is bad is the straight line in orange and the shaded area is currently used by Surf Air pilots in VFR conditions.

Update This story has been updated with the following information:

At the request of the Almanac, San Carlos Airport Assistant Airport Manager Chris St. Peter examined weather records for the last year at the airport. He said that in 2015, aircraft would have been able to arrive at the airport using only a visual approach slightly more than 86 percent of the time.
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Surf Air representatives say they have identified an alternative flight path that would put their planes, and the noise of their turboprop engines, over the Bay during much of their approach to the San Carlos Airport whenever they have clear visibility.

If all goes well, they say, the new approach could be in regular operation by the end of May.

On Tuesday, April 26, Jim Sullivan, Surf Air’s senior vice president of operations, showed the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors a map with a route that would take Surf Air planes from Moffett Field over the Bay, past the Dumbarton Bridge and then back to the San Carlos Airport over a cement plant.

Mr. Sullivan’s presentation was part of an undate for the supervisors from the county’s public works director, Jim Porter, on what the county is calling the “San Carlos Airport Aircraft Disturbance Study.” The supervisors approved the study in March.

Surf Air began using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, and complaints about noise from the turboprop planes the airline uses began flooding in soon after.

Mr. Sullivan said the airline has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northern California air traffic control branch, known as Norcal TRACON. They are trying to find a way to move the commuter airline’s planes away from the neighborhoods where residents say the noise has been making their lives miserable.

“I really do believe this is the meaningful relief that we’ve all been looking for,” Mr. Sullivan said on Tuesday, before catching a Surf Air plane from the San Carlos Airport back to work at Surf Air’s Santa Monica headquarters.

He said he personally piloted the Bay approach last week and believes it will work. He plans to have Surf Air’s “check pilots,” the pilots who train other pilots, fly the approach 25 times, starting immediately, when they fly into San Carlos.

“By having multiple pilots look at it multiple times” any problems can be found and the route modified, he said.

Surf Air will then train all its pilots to use the approach, and Norcal TRACON will inform the control towers in all the local airports, including San Jose, Moffett Field, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Carlos, about the new approach, Mr. Sullivan said.

The route won’t provide complete relief to those who live under the current flight path because, Mr. Sullivan said, it can only be used under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions. That means that if pilots can’t see the airport from the point at which they start the approach, which is near Sunnyvale, the current GPS approach will continue to be used, he said. Rainy or foggy days can limit that visibility.

At the request of the Almanac, San Carlos Airport Assistant Airport Manager Chris St. Peter examined weather records for the last year at the airport. He said that in 2015, aircraft would have been able to arrive at the airport using only a visual approach slightly more than 86 percent of the time.

Mr. Porter told the supervisors that the county has hired three consultants: an aviation consultant, an aviation noise consultant and a polling firm. “We’re looking at policies and procedures,” he said, including surveying what other general aviation airports do.

“We’re also potentially looking at landing fees,” he said, including software to help with that process. He said the county is also examining incentives for those who follow the airport’s voluntary noise abatement rules.

He said a public meeting will be scheduled in the near future to give residents a chance to talk about how they are affected by the airport operations, and local residents will also be surveyed. A set of recommendations are scheduled to come back to the supervisors in June.

“We are working diligently to make that schedule,” Mr. Porter said.

Atherton City Council member Mike Lempres asked the county to get residents more involved in the process.

“The residents of Atherton and North Fair Oaks have not yet been consulted in this process,” he said. And despite Mr. Sullivan’s assertion that Surf Air had begun flying most of its planes over U.S. 101 on April 12, Mr. Lempres said residents “have not noticed any change.”

Other speakers said that since Surf Air is working to solve the problem on its own, the county should halt the study. “We ask that you postpone further action or expenditure” until the planned changes are put in place, said Carol Ford of the airport’s pilots’ association.

But supervisors said they want the study to continue as scheduled. “We need to hear from the public,” said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier. “Are they not hearing the noise anymore?” she said. Are the changes “really working for them?”

“This isn’t to punish the pilots or the people at the airport,” she said.

Supervisor Dave Pine agreed. “It’s important we keep this study going,” he said. He, too, emphasized that the study is not aimed at the majority of the airport’s users. “The impetus of this has been commercial aircraft, primarily Surf Air,” he said.

After the meeting Mr. Lempres praised the county and others who have become involved in working to resolve noise issues, especially congressional representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier.

However, he said, “it’s hard for me to judge whether anything is being done or not. They continue to have a process that does not involve the residents. Hopefully we’re going to be part of the process going forward.”

North Fair Oaks resident and attorney Adam Ullman, who has been researching the issue for years, said he is happy “to finally see the county supervisors taking proactive steps to fulfill their legal obligations to mitigate the continuous and pervasive noise nuisance from aircraft over our community.”

“Airplanes louder than 757s, 777s and 787s should never have been allowed to be as low as a thousand feet over our homes and schools,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan said he believes the new Bay approach “really captures all the concerns of the community and leaders of the community, and the airport.”

“We are excited that the group has finally come together and rolled up their sleeves and said how do we fix this,” he said.

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