Residents of Brisbane are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce aircraft noise emanating over their city as the agency considers updates to its regional operations.
In a petition posted on MoveOn.org, nearly 300 residents have demanded that the FAA curb the number of flights that turn west over Brisbane as part of a new project called Northern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex, an area that includes San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento airports.
“Every single flight that wakes us up early in the morning or late at night, or disrupts our workday, is the result of FAA controllers instructing pilots to turn their planes early,” the petition reads. “The residents of Brisbane are concerned that the FAA instructions to 'cut the corner' over our town will become the new standard procedure, and aircraft noise in our community will get much worse.”
The charted procedure for destinations in Southern California, Arizona and Mexico is known as a Porte 5 departure from San Francisco International Airport. It directs aircraft out over San Francisco Bay before curving them west toward Brisbane and San Bruno Mountain and then down the Pacific coast.
Pilots are typically instructed to reach a coordinate 4 nautical miles over the Bay and 1,900 feet of elevation before turning left toward the Peninsula.
But area residents have noted that planes cutting a tighter loop around Brisbane at a lower altitude have caused disruptive noise on the ground.
However, Sacramento-based air traffic controllers in some cases instruct planes to do just that, vectoring them west before they reach the official waypoint, particularly when airspace is cluttered by Oakland departures.
“Controllers frequently vector aircraft off the published procedures to maintain required separation between aircraft and to maintain efficient air traffic flows,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
One concern for residents is that discount airlines have driven up the number of short-haul flights out of the Bay Area in the past decade. Additionally, roughly 42 noise incidents exceed the FAA's 65-decibel “threshold of significant impact” each day in Brisbane, according to Peter Grace, a resident who is helping to promote the petition.
“SFO and Oakland are just sending the planes off and there's no coordination,” Grace said. “On the flights that turn left towards Brisbane, 60 percent of them turn left early.”
According to Gregor, it is possible that improved routes in the metroplex will reduce the need for flights to turn early, but not a certainty.
“The proposed initiative involves implementing new, satellite-based air traffic procedures,” Gregor said. “This allows for more predictable routes with fixed locations and altitudes.”
The SFO Community Roundtable, a coalition of city representatives from San Mateo County, has requested that the FAA clarify the metroplex proposal and include the group as a stakeholder in the planning process ahead.
“There is still information that is lacking in the environmental assessment to help us determine what the impacts are going to be,” roundtable Chairman and Brisbane City Councilman Cliff Lentz said. “The FAA needs to consider noise in their final flight procedures.”
He continued: “What you hope will happen with this new system, because it's more efficient and more reliable, is that the planes can run their proper procedure with less vectoring. In theory, less vectoring should mean less noise.”