FAQs

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(1) What is the most effective thing we can do?
Sunnyvale has registered many complaints in the past year as they realized that Surf was the cause of much airplane noise over their houses.   As such, it may be more effective to email the Supervisors.  We have their emails under Act Now > Contact your representatives.   Any action will come from them, and they have been dragging their feet.

This website will direct you to the online complaint form. If you have autofill on your browser, you can file multiple reports at one sitting. You will have to complete the specific flight information for each one, but your other information will automatically complete. On the page requesting specific time and airport information, you only need to complete the fields with the red asterisk.

You may keep calling the San Carlos airport noise complaint line. They do keep track. Check the Surf Air schedule on our site at About > Surf Air Schedule to see if the planes you are hearing are likely to be Surf Air planes. The schedule is not 100% accurate but it is close. We have created a summary of the schedule to those planes using San Carlos airport.

(2) Why is this a noise problem now, when the San Carlos Airport has been in existence for many years?
KSQL traffic began to bother residents in late 2013 when Surf Air began operations.  Noise complaints have increased as Surf has increased flights from 6 per day to over 40 per day on weekdays. No one is trying to shut down the San Carlos Airport.Lately there have been other operators using the Pilatus, and there have been instances of other charter operations flying late at night or early in the morning.  Those actions produce more noise for neighborhoods. To see how complaints dramatically increased when Surf Air arrived, see (4) below.

(3) I have filed many complaints with the noise complaint line.   Where do these complaints go and why is there no effect from filing them?
Complaints are organized and filed by KSQL. The data is public. Many people are aware of the volume of complaints (see question below). The Supervisors have done nothing to address the noise. New and different Supervisors would perhaps be more active. It is not a priority for this group.

(4) How many complaints are filed and how has that number increased over time?
Before Surf Air starts flying from/into San Carlos Airport
First Qtr 2013 = 14 complaints (prev yr 9)
Second Qtr 2013 = 11 (prev yr 17)

SurfAir starts flying from/into San Carlos Airport
Third Qtr 2013 = 37 (prev yr 17 )
Fourth Qtr 2013 = 79 (prev yr 17).  Surf has about 3 flights per day at this time.
First Qtr 2014 = 266 (prev yr 14)
Second Qtr 2014 = 128 (prev yr 11)
Third Qtr 2014 = 128 (prev yr 37)
Fourth Qtr 2014 = 190

2015 data is unavailable.

Data presented at the Town Hall meeting in RWC on 9/14/16 showed that complaints have increased to 200 – 465 per week.  Not per quarter but per week.  Complaints have continued to increase.  Data for 2016 shows a similar pattern, increasing to over 1200 per week average for the fourth quarter 2016 and first quarter 2017.

(5) Who owns the airport?
San Carlos airport, KSQL, is owned by the County of San Mateo. The County Supervisors are the representatives of the County with whom we have contact about airport issues. Gretchen Kelly is the Airport Manager.

(6) Why can Surf Air operate a commercial airline out of a regional airport like San Carlos?
Short answer: because they can (legally). KSQL is a Regional Reliever Airport. “Reliever airports are designated by the FAA to relieve congestion at Commercial Services airports and to provide improved general aviation access to the overall community.” KSQL is sometimes referred to as a General Aviation airport to distinguish it from Commercial Service airports like SFO or SJC. GA airports do not have schedule service. There are no rules that prevent Surf from operating what we would call a “commercial airline” out of KSQL.

(7) Is Surf a commercial airline and should be using Commercial airports?
FAA defines “Commercial Service airports” as “Publicly owned airports that have at least 2,500 passenger boardings each calendar year and receive scheduled passenger service.” Surf Air seems to meet both of those criteria and should be using a Commercial Airport. However – they do not offer scheduled service in the view of the FAA. You cannot walk to the counter and purchase a ticket to a specified location at a certain time. That is FAA scheduled service. Surf uses the membership method, putting a layer between the customer and the ticket counter (or website).
More definitions…. What are the categories of airports? The FAA definitions:
Commercial service airports are publicly owned airports that have at least 2,500 passenger boardings each calendar year and receive scheduled passenger service.
General Aviation (GA) airports are public use airports that do not have scheduled service or have less than 2,500 annual passenger boardings.
KSQL is a General Aviation (GA) airport. California PUC code defines General Aviation as “general aviation aircraft are all aircraft other than air carrier aircraft and military aircraft.” Air carrier is any “aircraft operating pursuant to a federal certificate…including any pursuant to 49 USC 1371.” This covers charter operations. Since Surf is a charter airline, it is specifically excluded from the GA definition by California. There is no law saying they cannot fly into SQL, but the underlying element is that should not be (and this is something the County should control.)
Surf operates as a Part 135 commuter airline. This allows them to provide a scheduled service, including the high volume of flights they currently provide. They can also increase their service to even higher frequencies, and will probably do so as they take delivery of additional aircraft.

(8) What is the difference between the FAA Part 121 and Part 135 designations?
In most cases, if an operator provides air transportation of persons or property for compensation or hire, the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) require that a commercial operating certificate be issued. Operators of business aircraft that wish to conduct operations for compensation or hire are generally certificated under Part 135 of the FARs. As a certificate holding entity, the operator must comply with a number of FAA requirements regarding areas such as flight operations, maintenance and training. Air taxi and air charter operations are governed by Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). Air Carrier Certificate: An Air Carrier certificate is issued to an applicant that will conduct interstate, foreign, or overseas transportation, or will carry mail.
Operating Certificate: An Operating certificate is issued to an applicant that will conduct intrastate transportation, which is transportation that is conducted wholly within the same state of the United States.
Company Ownership: An applicant must be a citizen of the United States of America. If the proposed certificate holder will be owned by a partnership, each member of the partnership must be a U S citizen, if owned by a corporation or association created or organized under the laws of the United States or of any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, the president and two-thirds or more of the board of directors and other managing officers thereof must be a citizen of the United States and at least 75 per cent of the voting interest must be owned or controlled by persons who are citizens of the United States or of one of its possessions.
Commuter: Commuter operations may be conducted in airplanes which have a maximum passenger seating configuration of 9 seats and a maximum payload capacity of 7500 pounds, or in any rotorcraft. Commuter operations cannot be conducted in any turbo-jet aircraft Part 121 – scheduled commercial air service with paying customers. Planes are flown on defined routes as often as the operator wants. This is where companies like Delta and American operate. Part 121 is larger, scheduled air carriers like the major airlines that we are used to flying.

(9) How did a commercial airline like Surf get licensed to operate out of SQL?
The lawsuit from the Surf Air founder Dave Everly is interesting reading.
The lawsuit is attached here as a pdf. Dave Everly and his brother founded Surf in 2011 and had the first flights in June 2013. After Venture Capital investors took control, Dave was fired and his ownership which had been 50% was reduced to 0.75% (less than 1%). Pg 2. Dave’s idea was to operate a passenger airline with regularly-scheduled flights under a Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) part 135 certificate (“part 135 certificate”), which is usually used for cargo and charter airline operations. Generally, passenger airlines operating regularly-scheduled flights operate under an FAA part 121 certificate (“part 121 certificate”). Pg 5

From the lawsuit: “There were two significant advantages to Dave’s plan. First, passengers would not need to pass through a TSA checkpoint before boarding a plane. By way of comparison, passengers using an airline operating under a part 121 certificate must go through a TSA checkpoint, an unpleasant experience that adds significant time and stress to a passenger’s flying experience.” Pg 5-6

“Second, because no TSA checkpoint would be required, the airline could fly out of smaller airports. Other passenger airlines cannot fly out of many small airports because those airports do not have a TSA checkpoint, a requirement for airlines flying under a part 121 certificate. Flying out of a smaller airport often means less competition and more convenience for passengers because smaller airports are much less busy and have more convenient parking.” Pg 6

“One of the most significant hurdles to starting Surf Air was to obtain FAA approval to operate a passenger airline with regularly-scheduled flights under a part 135 certificate. Dave spearheaded Surf Air’s efforts to obtain FAA approval, as well as Surf Air’s efforts to obtain DOT approval to fly across state lines.

At first the FAA expressed skepticism to Dave that his plan of operating such an airline was legal. The FAA told Dave it had never seen this regulation used in the way he was proposing. Dave had to walk the FAA through arcane FAA regulations to demonstrate the legality of his idea. Dave worked tirelessly with the FAA for two years to obtain FAA approval. Without approval from the FAA, Surf Air could not operate. After two years, in June 2013, Surf Air received FAA approval and had its inaugural flight.” Pg 8 – 9

(10) Who are the Surf customers? Do any of them live in the flight path?
According to Supervisor Horsley in 2016, “About one-third of their customers are based in San Mateo. The other two thirds are from San Francisco, Marin and Santa Clara Counties. We’ve encouraged them to see if they could have more flights from San Jose and Oakland. They haven’t done so.”

The Surf website states that membership starts at $1,950 per month plus a $1,000 sign up fee. Prices change occasionally. An article on BusinessWire dated 5/4/16 said there are 2,800 members spread among the 12 California airports plus Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Times article 4/10/15 stated “The average customer is 44 and has an annual income of $411,000. About half own two homes.”

(11) What is the Surf Air business model?
Surf Air is a private, members-only travel service. It has plans to grow its number of flights and continues to received funding to lease additional aircraft. In spite of its adverse impact on residents, Surf Air has increased its flights. Two years ago it was 8 per weekday, then it was 19, and in 2016 it has reached 40. They are growing their business at our expense. We suffer the negative impacts of their business.

From Surf’s promotional material mid 2016: they have grown from 8 flights per day to 88, they have 12 planes now with 53 more on the way, 31,242 trips between LA and the Bay, and the “Dawn Patrol” 1,698 flights took off before 6:30 am.

(12) There is no TSA security check. How many passengers are flying with minimal security checks?
As we see in the FAQ (9) about the origin and business model of Surf Air, the avoidance of security checks was one of the two main “advantages” to Surf’s plan. The other was the ability to use small airports that had no TSA. As to the number of passengers per year with minimal security check: Assuming 200 flights per week and 8 passengers per flight, there would be 83,200 people passing through SQL and our airways with no TSA security checks.

(13) Surf Air’s plane the Pilatus PC 12 seems louder than other planes using San Carlos.  Is that the reason for their excessive noise?
There are several reasons why Surf Air flights are noisier to neighbors than other planes.  According to a study done at Seattle, the Pilatus PC 12 ,across the 3 indices used for noise, measured louder than the Boeing 737 – 500 and McDonnell Douglas DC8 among others.

(14) Has Surf Air had problems at other airports with noise?
Surf Air is located in Santa Monica, CA. The local airport in Santa Monica does not allow them to use the airport. The city of Santa Monica is trying to close the airport because of the adverse effects of noise on the community and concerns about safety.

(15) Answer to the common question “Why do you complain about the noise?”
“We live in an urban area. And to expect that you can avoid noise or traffic (in the air or on the ground) while living in a metropolitan area of 10m is far fetched I think.” There are several aspects to this question. Everyone expects traffic, leaf blowers, motorcycles, trains, and planes. If you live in the flight path for SFO, you will hear planes. You know that when you elect to live in that flight path. We do not live in the flight path for a major airport. Traffic arriving at KSQL has not produced excessive noise for 50 years until Surf arrived. Surf Air often arrives “low and loud.” Sound meters at residences have registered 78 Db. When there are 42 weekday flights, the noise adds up. Surf contributes excessive and unnecessary noise.
Secondly, other small planes using KSQL do not generate excessive noise. Surf should generate no more noise than do others. There is no technical reason why they cannot fly quieter.
Thirdly, this type of noise is unhealthy and disruptive. There is an adverse impact on our schools, as has been documented locally. There are documented adverse effects on the health of those in a flight path. Both are discussed further in other sections of this website.

(16) What about the noise abatement policy at KSQL?
The airport has a voluntary noise abatement policy. Through the efforts of its Manager, Gretchen Wilson, the airport has been a good neighbor. They have educated their users and responded to noise complaints (prior to Surf’s arrival when complaint volume became unmanageable).
There are two basic problems with the policy. Firstly, the hours of operations suggested restrictions apply to touch and go operations, like flight schools that may depart and land several times as part of their instruction. A KSQL user could land a midnight or 4 a.m. and not be in violation. Secondly, the policy is voluntary. Most airport users want to be good neighbors, but Surf runs a business.

(17) Has Surf Air acknowledged their impact?
At a Town Hall meeting 9/30/14, the Surf Air CEO stated “We have a situation here that’s negatively affecting your lives.” He later said in a letter, “out of consideration for the health and wellness of community members, Surf Air will be self-imposing limits on our hours of operation from 7 am to 9:30 pm, effective January 1, 2016.
Those hours never materialized. Surf’s hours are from 6 am to 10:20 pm.

(18) Surf Air has promised to be a “good corporate citizen.” Isn’t there something they can do to quiet their planes? Other planes at KSQL do not produce the same noise.
Surf Air spokesman said at both community meetings that they want to be a “good corporate citizen.” They have not implemented any satisfactory measures if any at all. Surf Air has raised millions of dollars and leased more planes. They continue to use the noisy Pilatus without any investments that would help the neighborhoods they impact. If other airlines were to create the same disturbance as Surf Air, we need a structure to prevent that disturbance.  Those using the airport before Surf Air were not a problem.  Surf Air has shown that without oversight and control, aircraft of that class can generate as much noise as they want and fly whenever they want.

(19) What is the Bayside approach and what happened to it?
On July 5, 2016 Surf Air began flying an alternate approach as approved by the FAA. Often called the “Bayside” (BVA) approach, Surf planes flew over Moffett Field and up the bay to the cement plant on Woodside Rd. From there the planes turned toward KSQL. This approach had several conditions before it could be used by the pilot. There was a six month trial. The trial is over and the FAA is currently reviewing the BVA.

(20) Does the airport have any control over the aircraft using it?
KSQL is not a private airfield, it is open for public use which means pretty much any small aircraft can use it. As long as the County continues to accept Federal grants for the airport, it can be difficult to impose any restrictions or limits. There are some things the County can do. If they feel their constituents require relief, they will pursue it.

(21) What can the County do to close the airport and/or reduce or eliminate the Federal control over airport policies?
When the County accepts Federal funding, they agree to accept various terms and conditions for 20 years. As long as the airline complies with applicable laws, it has a right to use the airport. If KSQL did not accept the FAA money, then it could get rid of Surf Air in 20 years. Once the County stops accepting those federal funds, the 20 period starts to diminish. In 20 years, the County could exert controls over the airport as they deemed prudent and necessary. There are airports that have done this.

(22) We would like to write to our local politicians. Do you have a sample letter?
On this website, under Act Now, Talk to Others, there is a Flyer. Here are some of those comments which are still relevant as Surf Air remains inconsiderate of the noise. Surf Air has negative effects on our quality of life, our health and environment, our real estate values, and our productivity. Surf Air flies from early morning to late at night (10 pm), seven days a week.
Their planes create a “dive-bombing” sense that you feel because these planes fly especially low in their landing approach with landing gear down very early in the process, and because they use a particularly noisy Pilatus aircraft.
We understand that “Scheduled commuter airlines (have) far higher crash rates than major airlines.”(1)As such, aircraft flying the same route multiple times a day pose a higher safety risk for those of us living near the flight path or attending nearby schools.
Surf Air, a private, members-only travel service, has plans to substantially grow its number of flights and continues to received funding to lease additional aircraft.In spite of its adverse impact on residents, Surf Air has increased its flights. In 2013 when Surf began it was 6 flights per weekday, now it is 40. They are growing their business at our expense. We ask your help to stop this southern California commuter airline from abusing our neighborhoods.

(23) Does the airport make money from Surf Air?
The following statements are from reliable sources but have not been verified. Please send us the data if you have it.
The cash that the airport generates from Surf is insignificant.  Surf uses a private facility for boarding/de-planing so I believe the airport gets no money for that.  If Surf buys fuel, that probably goes to the local company that operates the fuel trucks. Indirectly, all those services are probably paying a fee to the airport to operate their businesses at the airport, but again, if Surf went away, it would have minimal financial impact.
Local commentary (not from us): Commercial flights are a big part of the county economy, and therefore we all have to put up with it. 

This is a lie. SC airport may employ a few more people due to Surf Air and the other charter company – but this number is insignificant. This airport is revenue neutral for the county: the county owns it, but it does not subsidize it, and does not get any revenue from it. At least they will not reveal any numbers readily – which means that they are revenue neutral. The airport is self-sustained, and has been for years. The county allowed the airport to take grants from FAA (in order to keep the airport in good working order). The county can stop taking grants from FAA if this creates a problem for its residents, as an extreme measure, but they do not have to – there is plenty of room within the grant assurances act to reach a mutually suitable compromise.

(24) What is happening these days on our quest to quiet Surf Air? I haven’t heard anything lately.
The Calmtheskies Residents Working Group is working on all viable paths toward quieter skies. We are working on changing the flight paths, changing the descent angles, delaying gear extensions, installing quieter propellers, etc. There is not a simple quick fix, especially given the resistance from Surf Air.There is a committee – the San Carlos Airport Noise Abatement Group – which consists of representatives of Calmtheskies, County Supervisor Warren Slocum’s office, Atherton City Council, the Surf Air CEO, and others. This group meets irregularly to discuss remedies and actions. Surf Air delays implementing remedies.

(25) I saw the information on the proposed curfew.  What is the status?
The proposed curfew is not being considered at this time.

(26) Who owns Surf Air now?
As of June 2017 Surf Air is owned by Encompass Aviation. Encompass is the operator of Surf. They hire and train the pilots. Surf does its own scheduling and marketing. On Flightaware.com the flights are listed under the Ident column as ROM—. If you click on the flight for additional information, you will see Empresa Aeromar as the airline.

This arrangement explains the disconnect in May, 2017, when the new chief pilot, an employee of Encompass, was not aware that Surf was announcing more flights into KSQL.
Encompass is a certificated Part 135 commuter operator (intra-state) providing safe, high quality and on-time air transportation services. This is what Surf does, and this is Surf’s designation (Part 135 , air taxi and air charter operations).

Encompass brings FAA Part 121 operations management, skills and experience to the Part 135 marketplace. Part 121 is larger, scheduled air carriers like the major airlines that we are used to flying.

From Encompass: “We invest our time, capital, and resources in professional companies that results in successful relationships for all involved.” Now they own Surf.

From Linked In: Encompass Aviation is a highly specialized aviation investment and management consulting firm focused exclusively on commercial airline operations, management, certification, planning, aircraft leasing and aircraft trading. We are presently working to obtain our own FAA Part 135 operating certificate and anticipate the start of operations in the first quarter of 2017.

Specialties: airline operations, aviation management, aircraft trading, aircraft leasing
Website http://encompassaviation.com Industry Airlines/Aviation
Type Privately Held Headquarters
303 W. Lancaster Ave Wayne, PA 19087 United States
Company Size 1-10 employees Founded 2015

(27) What is the relationship between Surf Air and Encompass?
Page references below are from the County’s challenge to the Encompass Application in 2017. That challenge is found in the FAQ (28). “In the beginning, and as of late 2016, Surf owned and operated its own aircraft in intrastate travel, and therefore did not required economic authority from DOT. When Surf decided to add interstate service, which would have made it a direct carrier, it changed its model, as described above, to cease direct operations itself and to use the services of other direct carriers to provide its service.” Pg 18 – 19

“Surf leased all its aircraft to Encompass and then contracted with Encompass to provide full use of those aircraft for Surf Air’s customers. Surf contracted with Advanced Air to provide its Las Vegas flights, and Advanced Air then sought economic authority to provide interstate service. Now Encompass also seeks economic authority to provide Surf Air’s interstate service. Pg 19

From unverified citizen comments on the Almanac: “Surf Air as an operation does not technically exist anymore. This includes the Surf Air OPSPEC issued by the FAA and the call sign (they now call themselves “Roam” listed as ROM on Flightaware). The airplanes are still painted as Surf Air and they use the branding.”

“Surf Air was unable to operate outside California due to restrictions based on foreign investor funding. Encompass came in, bought the operational side of the company, made the funding majority domestic, and filed for the interstate carrier permit.”

In 2017 Encompass filed an Application for authority to operate as a commuter air carrier. The County filed an Answer objecting to the Encompass Application. The page reference below is from the County’s challenge to the Encompass Application.

“Surf air separately contracts with operators – Encompass and Advanced- and dictates virtually all of the service – schedule, aircraft type, airport, and livery-other than the actual operation of the flight.” Pg 12

(28) What was the 2017 challenge that the County filed as an Answer to the Surf/Encompass Application to the Dept of Transportation?
This Answer is attached as a pdf. The County’s answer gets complicated.

Summarizing Surf Air’s business plan, we quote Mr. Allen, “It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”
Some of the statements from the County Answer:
“Thus Surf Air’s entire legal structure seems designed to circumvent direct regulation by DOT.” Pg 19

“If Encompass Application is granted, Encompass would facilitate the unauthorized operations of Surf Air.” Pg 18

“Surf Air’s operation is a classic indirect carrier operation and its “innovative” business model is simply a distraction.” Pg 12

…the arrangement between Encompass and Surf Air seems carefully designed to avoid DOT regulation of Surf Air.” Pg 18

(29) Are there measures that Surf and its pilots can enact to reduce noise? Can they fly “differently” to reduce noise?
Yes, but…it is unlikely that any technical adjustment will result in sufficient noise reduction.

These suggestions and others like them have not been implemented. Since the Pilatus has been measured by the FAA at decibels higher than some of the major carriers’ planes – like the Boeing and McDonnell Douglas- it is difficult to make it less noisy.

4/27/17: We had the chance to discuss a lot the procedures for landing, from a professional pilot’s perspective. Clearly, the tower doesn’t have enforcing power, just suggestions and support (unless for collision avoidance). So we need to convince pilots (and their boss, the chief pilot) to apply procedures to reduce noise, even though it’s easier to do GPS approach straight line into the runway (and above our heads).

(1) Descent Angle: He told me that Pilatus have the ability to descend at a steep angle without problems, that would solve the problem if they start their descent on top of 101 into SQL and stay above 1000ft before.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilatus_PC-12#Specifications_.28PC-12NG.29

Note the landing distance (2170 ft for 2200 ft at SQL): that makes Pilatus a dangerous plane to land at SQL as there’s no margin! The steeper the angle of descent, the higher the landing speed (they have to decrease potential energy much faster), so it’s an extra burden on the pilots.

The final angle of descent for GPS procedure is 3.05 deg for SQL and 3.68 for PAO (Palo Alto). Why is SQL flatter? that makes planes fly lower above our heads. 1100 ft above my house instead of 1330 ft for 3.68). The sound intensity would be 32% less at the angle of 3.68 degrees. A notable difference!

Convince Surf Air to fly more quietly, and direct their flights when possible over unpopulated areas. This is fully within their control, but they must want to do so. In visual conditions (no clouds), the PIC (pilot in command) has authority to route the flight other than straight in on the GPS (instrument) approach. Additionally, the pilot has the ability to fly the plane at different power settings, flap configurations, propeller speeds, air speeds, and altitudes in ways that can drastically alter the sound level. A great example is the non-Surf Air PC12 flight that rolled in at over 96dB on Monday morning, whereas most of SA’s flights come in at 74dB, but they sometimes have come in quiet as 69dB.

(2) Flap configurations: landing with wheels down and flaps down requires more power . More drag from the plane requires more power (and noise) to maintain air speed. We will often see planes with flaps and wheels down as they fly over us.