Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Airport board addresses noise concerns

But solutions are elusive

Express Staff Writer

    A sometimes heated discussion about airplane noise over Hailey and Bellevue resulted in agreement to further consider the issue, but produced no solutions during a Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board meeting Thursday.
    Those involved may have to resign themselves to the fact that with extensive residential development near the airport, conflicts over noise will be inevitable until a new facility is built south of the populated area. Though the airport is pursuing a “dual-path” plan, no such move is expected in the foreseeable future.
    The issue was placed on the board’s agenda at the request of board member and Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle. It also coincided with publication of a guest opinion by Chantrelle subdivision resident Pamela Jenkins in the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday, Oct. 8. Jenkins claimed the airport’s voluntary noise-abatement program is not working.
    At the meeting, Jenkins acknowledged being responsible for 38 phone calls made to the airport’s noise complaint number on Sept. 19-21, most reporting planes flying low over her house. The calls were an obvious source of irritation to airport Manager Rick Baird, who called them “counterproductive” and a waste of airport staff members’ time.
    “It was meant to harass, it was meant to tie up the line, it was meant to prove a point,” Baird said. “There was no validity in the concerns whatsoever.”
    Baird has often said that he and his staff go to great lengths to address complaints and track down violators of the airport’s “good neighbor” flying policy. His claims were backed up by several board members Thursday.
    “I’ve never seen another airport follow up as well as we do,” board Chair Ron Fairfax said.
    Jenkins said her barrage of calls was prompted by “an extreme sense of frustration” over planes repeatedly flying “very low and very loud.” She asked airport officials to spend one day in her neighborhood to understand her frustration.
    The airport’s instrument flight path and recommended noise-abatement procedures make some noise over northern Bellevue unavoidable. The airport asks that pilots taking off to the south make a 15-degree right turn and fly along the west side of the valley. “Avoid Bellevue,” a noise-abatement brochure states. However, Baird acknowledged that the point at which the right turn occurs is right over Chantrelle subdivision, and the instrument approach is between state Highway 75 and Chantrelle.
    “We’re not going to harass pilots who are doing exactly what we tell them to do just because they’re flying over a particular part of the valley,” he said.
    Jenkins said her objection is to planes flying too low. In an interview after the meeting, she said planes fly at varying altitudes as they go over her house.
    “Sometimes I feel that I could wave at the pilots, they’re so low,” she said.
    Beginning about two miles south of the airport, approaching pilots key-in on the proper downward glide slope by watching two tiers of lights, one white and the other red. The goal is to keep the number of white lights and red lights even as the plane descends; too much of either color means the plane is above or below the proper path.
    In an interview, Fairfax said the slope puts planes at about 800 feet above the ground over the northern end of Bellevue.
    “Once planes hit the glide slope, they’re going to be at almost exactly the same height,” said Fairfax, who represents private pilots on the board. “The difference between the highest planes and the lowest planes is less than 100 feet, though the bigger planes are going to look a lot lower.”
    The Freidman glide slope is set at 3.5 degrees—half a degree steeper than the standard. Fairfax said that’s about as steep a path as jets can land at, though prop planes can wait a little longer and drop in more steeply.
    At the meeting, board member and County Commissioner Larry Schoen suggested that the board review the noise abatement program on an annual basis.
    “This [discussion] is a healthy process,” he said. “We just have to keep working at it.”

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