Neighbors Decry FAA’s Proposal

In 1994, a group of Alameda homeowners’ associations formed an umbrella organization to address issues at the Oakland International Airport.  In 2001 this organization, called the “Citizens League For Airport Safety & Serenity” (CLASS), played a significant role in forcing the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, to agree to improve airport security checkpoints, add gates to two terminals at the airport and improve parking there. 

According to CLASS, the settlement also put a series of aircraft operational procedures in place to minimize disruptions to homeowners who live near the airport and to the flight paths of airplanes that take off from the facility. 
Changes to these flight operations proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) threaten to reduce the effectiveness of the protections provided under the settlement agreement. 

“The FAA recently indicated that it intends to shift the preferred flight operations for airplanes departing from the Oakland International Airport in a manner that would likely lead to significant increases in noise disruption for residents close to the (new) flight paths,” CLASS stated in a press release. 

CLASS has written a letter to the FAA asking the federal government to take a closer look at how these changes might affect Alameda residents.

“The Oakland Airport has done its part to minimize noise for those of us who are most affected by normal airport operations,” said Ewart “Red” Wetherill, CLASS president. “But now the FAA is threatening to undo some of the most important safeguards that are in place to protect reasonable quiet sleeping hours and a manageable noise level for all of the communities affected.”

Currently, airplanes that depart Oakland International Airport between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. follow a procedure that guides them over San Francisco Bay and away from residential neighborhoods in Alameda. 

“Planes take off in a fan pattern, which further reduces the intensity of noise levels for specific properties by dispersing flight operations over a wide area,” Wetherill said. “The FAA has indicated it intends to both shift current flight operations closer to residential areas in Alameda and to narrow the band of the flight path available to pilots. 

This change could mean that some residential areas could experience a dramatic increase in both the frequency and noise level of nighttime flights.

This marks the second time that CLASS has penned a letter to the FAA about this issue. The letters allege that the FAA failed to complete a rigorous environmental analysis of the impacts associated with the proposed flight patterns. CLASS states that the materials the FAA provided were extremely technical. In addition the agency only gave the public a short period to comment on the proposed changes. This made it difficult to offer substantive suggestions to address concerns regarding the new procedures.

Changes in flight patterns at Oakland International Airport are likely part and parcel to a broader plan that the FAA is putting in place at other major airports in the region.  

In January 2013 the agency announced it was working with Bay Area airports to implement a strategy that uses satellite navigation in place of today’s ground-based system. The new structure would allow aircraft to take more direct routes and change the way they land so  that they glide to the runway on a smooth, precise approach. 

The plan would also shorten flight paths by making them more direct. This would cut flight times and fuel consumption, but add to the noise that the airports’ neighbors have to contend with.