Friday, September 5, 2014

Airport addresses noise concerns

Recent flight changes affect certain neighborhoods

Express Staff Writer

An airport staffer waves in a United Express regional jet earlier this summer. Photo by Roland Lane

    Freidman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird told Airport Authority board members this week that he will post the airport’s noise abatement guidelines more prominently on its website and will draft a technical report on how the airport’s approach path relates to nearby residential areas.
    Baird’s pledges followed allegations of an increase in low flights and late-night or early-morning operations made during recent Airport Authority board meetings, especially by Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle.
    “The planes have been departing over our heads much more often than they did in the past,” said Donna Serrano, a resident of Chantrelle subdivision at the north end of Bellevue, in an interview after a board meeting Tuesday.
    However, the number of complaints sent to the airport from residents has actually decreased—from 24 received between January and August 2013 to only 16 during the same period this year.
    The number of complaints received from Bellevue residents has remained about the same, dropping from 10 to 9, but the number from Hailey residents has been cut in half, from 14 to 7.
    Having been the recipient of federal funds since 1976, the airport is required to operate in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration rules. One of those is that it be open 24 hours a day. However, the airport has issued guidelines that ask pilots to limit operations to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and to fly to the east of Bellevue on approach and to the west of Bellevue after taking off. The guidelines also request that large planes do not operate to the north over Hailey.
    “I don’t know of anyone who disregards the noise abatement for their pleasure or their convenience,” board Chair and private pilot Ron Fairfax said during the meeting Tuesday.
    In an interview, Baird called Friedman “one of the most aggressive airports in the country” for promoting “good-neighbor” flying. He said private pilots who arrive in the middle of the night are met on the runway by himself or another airport employee who sternly explains what’s expected of them. He said probably fewer than 50 flights per year violate the voluntary time restrictions, and most of those are emergency medical flights.
    “I think the system works, because over the years we’ve taught pilots to be aware of these noise-sensitive times,” he said.
    Two recent changes, however, could validate a belief that aircraft operations at Freidman have become noisier. One is a trend away from individual ownership of private jets to fractional ownership and the use of charters. The other is Delta Air Lines’ replacement of its 28-seat Embraer Brasilia turboprop planes in January with 65-seat Bombardier CRJ-700 jets for its Sun Valley to Salt Lake City route.
    Both those phenomena have resulted in more instrument-based approaches to Friedman airport relative to the number of visual approaches. On instruments, a pilot has to take a more direct path to the airport, rather than coming in to the east of Bellevue. Under FAA rules, an air traffic controller cannot ask a pilot to depart from an instrument approach path to reduce noise.
    “More [private] jet owners have established policies that require their pilots to fly instruments ground to ground,” Baird said in an interview.
    He said the same policy applies to Delta’s new regional jets, whereas pilots flying the older turboprops were permitted to take a visual approach in good weather.
    The commercial jets also are prohibited from taking off to or landing from the north, even during times of southerly winds when such an approach would be preferable. That’s because they need a longer runway, and the obstacle-free zone is shorter to the north.
    Baird said the maximum tailwind speed for any size plane to take off is 10 knots. Since the Brasilia planes could operate to the north, they did so whenever a northerly wind exceeded that limit. However, Delta’s new jets have to wait until a northerly wind moderates before they can take off to the south.
    “If you’re a Hailey resident, the CRJ-700 operations here are a good thing, but if you’re a Bellevue resident, they may not be a good thing,” Baird said.
    An additional potential consequence of that restriction is more delays on arrivals to Salt Lake City, and perhaps more missed connections.
    Delta’s introduction of the jets cut the number of departures by about half, which is less convenient for travelers but has resulted in fewer noise events for residents near the airport.
    Baird said the jets are quieter than the Brasilia turboprops, and quieter than older corporate jets.
    “The CRJ-700 is considered a next-generation aircraft,” he said. “For a 70-passenger aircraft, it is very, very quiet.”
    Board Chair Fairfax also said that despite the jets’ drawbacks, he welcomed the switch.
    “People love them,” he said. “They can fly above the clouds, and they’re smoother, faster and quieter.”
    Even when the wind is from the south, windy conditions can force pilots to stay closer to the center of the valley and away from the hillsides, for safety reasons, thus routing them over more residential areas.
    “I don’t think the public understands that there are challenges that can prevent the pilots from doing what they would want to do,” Baird said. “We try to be a good neighbor, but we can’t be perfect.”

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