Santa Barbara Airport works to accommodate neighbors’ concerns
Elizabeth Gabler, a longtime resident of Hope Ranch, can hear the airplanes coming while she is inside her home.
She runs outside and looks at the plane’s identifying marks before calling in a noise complaint.
In fact, she has memorized the number of the automated complaint system. She’s that frustrated by the loud hums of jet engines.
Noise complaints are common at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport now that more flights have resumed. The volume of complaints has doubled since last month, Airport Operations Manager Aaron Keller told the News-Press.
The airport is trying to be neighborly, but its options are limited by Federal Aviation Administration laws.
In the interest of safety, the FAA doesn’t allow airports to establish a mandatory flight path. Pilots must be able to change paths based on weather and other conditions.
The Santa Barbara Airport has voluntary noise-abatement approaches set for each runway. Smaller planes often use Runway 15L and 15R and are directed to fly over Highway 101.
The largest aircrafts land on Runway 25. Its voluntary path directs pilots over the ocean before turning left through More Mesa and onto the runway.
Southwest Airlines is working with SBA to get the FAA’s formal approval of a noise-abatement approach. The airport is pushing for a quick approval, hoping it would direct more pilots away from populated areas.
When pilots don’t take a noise-abatement approach, the airport reminds them of the preferred route.
Additionally, air-traffic controllers approve pilots for takeoff and landing by specifying the route they should take. Controllers call planes off-route to learn possible issues.
Each noise complaint is investigated by Santa Barbara Airport staff, who document each case and research what conditions may have caused the change in approach.
“We have multiple people working on this, and it is taking the capacity that we have (to the point) where we may need to bring more bodies on board,” Mr. Keller said.
The airport receives about 52 complaints each day, which Mr. Keller says is akin to 2019’s volume.
In 2019, there were 8,042 complaints, up from 1,161 in 2018.
The number of complaints rose dramatically this spring, as flights resumed after a quiet year and Nextdoor posts circulated about the issue. (Nextdoor.com is a website focused on various concerns for neighborhoods.)
In May, the Santa Barbara Airport received 563 noise complaints. Of those, 228 complaints were from Hope Ranch residents, or around 40%.
Mesa Shores submitted 86 complaints; South of Hollister gathered 65 complaints, and More Mesa residents complained 60 times.
The Hope Ranch neighborhood met with the airport in 2019 to discuss noise abatement.
Ms. Gabler attended the meeting and estimated that around 50 people were present.
“People were very vocal about it, but nothing happened,” she said.
But lately she thinks the complaints may be helping. She sees aircrafts flying closer to the ocean but still seeks improvement.
She said she believes the worst offender is Southwest Airlines.
During the May Airport Commission meeting, Airport Operations Supervisor Kellie Reed said that Southwest has been easy to work with.
“We began coordinating with Southwest when they first came out and expressed significant interest,” she said. “They’ve been great partners and great supporters of seeking their own solutions to do their best to fly that approach.”
Southwest’s Boeing 737 aircrafts, though, are some of the largest planes to fly into SBA.
Another large carrier, Alaska Airlines, recently implemented its own visual approach avoiding populated neighborhoods.
Another limitation facing airports is the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which gives power to the FAA over local officials.
The law prohibits airports from restricting flight hours, so SBA can’t deny flights residents may think are too early in the morning or late at night.
Under the law, airports also can’t deny certain types of aircrafts. If the runway is long enough for the plane, it must be allowed.
Santa Barbara Flying Club Secretary Darryl Eaton said pilots are cognizant of communities’ concerns and try to keep disturbances to a minimum. It is the industry’s standard to ease up at a certain point in takeoff to reduce noise.
Mr. Eaton said pilots like to adhere to noise-abatement routes.
“Pilots are very willing to follow these procedures because we want to keep flying,” he said. “Unfortunately when airports are built, they’re built far away from cities, but cities are built around them.”
He likes the sound of aircrafts whirling above because it reminds him of something he enjoys, but he knows not everyone is passionate about flight.