Communities in San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and now Los Angeles are having major noise issues with the implementation of the Next-Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which guides in jetliners using satellites instead of air traffic controllers.
Residents are filing complaints, planning rallies and holding strategic meetings, all to push for answers from the Federal Aviation Administration. Last week's report by the Los Angeles Times of a massive 2,706% surge in noise complaints in the Bay Area, where NextGen's precision technique allows aircraft to fly lower down and much closer together, has unnerved many in L.A.
Residents of Mar Vista, Culver City, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades already are noticing jets flying in and out at lower altitudes and more often. Yet NextGen's official launch in Los Angeles, which will alter takeoffs and landings at LAX, Van Nuys, Santa Monica and Burbank airports, among others, is not until next fall.
“I’m not the FAA, and not being the expert I don’t know what the remedy should be. … I just know I want my peace restored,” says June Lehrman of Carlson Park, Culver City's representative on the LAX-Community Noise Roundtable. “Some hundreds of thousands of homeowners have noticed remarkable [noise] differences in these flight patterns and [FAA] claims that nothing has changed.”
The FAA continues to say it has not yet altered flight-pattern practices at LAX.
Stephen Murray, author of the technical blog Doors to Arrival, says he has found that "there will be increases of impacts due to the narrowing of flight paths and the blanket discarding of existing noise-mitigation measures."
Based on his models, Murray predicts, "There are SoCal communities silent now that will be hit much, much harder than [expected to be hard-hit] Culver City, Newport Beach and Point Loma — and they will quickly become aware once NextGen flies over next November."
According to Murray, despite the FAA's denials that it has partially implemented NextGen in L.A. already, "A suspicion is that a combination of flight-path changes and air traffic controller instructions are dropping planes lower and slowly 'boiling the frog' with progressive increases in noise" to lead up to the dramatic changes next fall.
Denny Schneider, chairman of the LAX-Community Noise Roundtable and a member of the Westchester Neighbors Association, explains that the feds' NextGen system uses satellites with GPS technology to take away command of landings and takeoffs from the air traffic controllers in their glass towers. Jetliners are guided seamlessly, allowing them to be spaced much closer together in tighter new routes that are often nearer to the communities below — saving money on fuel and causing fewer delays.
A lot of residents now fear NextGen will do to L.A. what it's done to the Bay Area: Introduce louder, more unrelenting jet noise, even in unsuspecting new neighborhoods that currently hear only the occasional airplane overhead.
“We can’t rely on the city or the FAA!” says Martin Rubin, co-chairman of the Mar Vista Community Council. “We believe we need to get our own data and actually have someone sit at a specific position to record how low the planes are coming in and how much noise. We don’t believe anything the FAA says.”
In Culver City, homeowner Ken Palmer agrees, saying, “We saw the gradual changes just this past summer when we’d have to close our windows at night because the noise was so loud. We noticed how loud the buzzing of planes over our heads became and the planes come every two minutes.”
Murray, the technical blogger at Doors to Arrival, which analyzes and often questions the FAA's NextGen plan for the Southern California "Metroplex," reported on Nov. 13 that the FAA is speaking with two voices when touting the purported fuel savings and reduced emissions:
In a seeming battle between PR and and its own research, the FAA doesn’t agree on what the fuel use and emissions are for the SoCal Metroplex project. The PR department claims that the proposed NextGen changes will result in less fuel and less emissions, the scientists pronounce more and more.
Activists, and some Culver City elected leaders and other politicians working alongside them, say they are being ignored and pacified with outdated data from governing bodies concerning the NextGen activation.
“NextGen will impact the community, although they constantly say it won’t — we will definitely be impacted,” says Danna Cope of Westchester, a past chairwoman of the LAX Advisory Committee and member of the LAX-Community Noise Roundtable.
“We have all of these community problems and they (FAA) are not giving us any answers,” Cope says. “We have to hold the FAA or the airport accountable.”
She alleges that the FAA and major airline companies are far too friendly, and that L.A.-area residents will come out the losers. “Most retired airline execs go to work at the FAA, and most FAA retirees go to work at airline companies,” Cope claims.
While the FAA insists that no new flight procedures have yet been implemented in Southern California, air traffic has noticeably increased in communities around LAX and other airports. Officials say that's thanks to the area's economic revival.
“We cannot tell airlines what to do, we don't have that authority” says Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, in response to claims that a federal hand is behind the jump in noise. "LAX has made a huge recovery since 9/11 … getting back to where it was 15 years ago. You might not believe it, but 15 years ago, we had more traffic than we have today.”
Residents in or near the path of SoCal airport traffic, as well as other communities that have not historically been hurt by jet noise, are stressing over what will happen next November as NextGen plays out in the air.
In San Francisco, residents across a broad swath of the Bay Area were repeatedly assured by the feds that an FAA Enviromental Assessment showed no new noise or environmental impacts.
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That FAA claim has been shown to be demonstrably wrong. Complaints continue to pour in to the FAA from large numbers of Northern California residents, including those in communities that have not generally suffered from jetliner noise before.
Now the FAA is saying the same thing about Los Angeles that it said about the Bay Area: no new negative impacts, according to the Southern California Environmental Assessment that was closed to public comment a few weeks ago.
“The public health is at stake,” Rubin believes. “We’re not even talking about pollution, just the noise. We don’t like it, and we want to know what’s going to be done about it.”
Gregor, at the FAA, says the agency is trying to be open to criticism. "We understand that it’s been a big issue — they’ve had similar situations in San Francisco and at JFK." He says the point of the community noise roundtables is "to hear directly from residents.”