Guest commentary: We need less airport noise, and expansion plan and current flight paths don’t help
Global demand for air travel is still down 85 percent to 90 percent year over year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and San Diego International Airport is no exception.
According to Tori Barnes of the U.S. Travel Association, “while the rest of the country is moving into a recession, the travel industry is already in a depression.” Industry insiders and analysts expect at least a two- to three-year recovery period and a much smaller airline industry even when consumer demand returns.
On April 17, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) declared a local emergency, projecting a sharp revenue decline. On June 4, SDCRAA announced an 85 percent decline in year-over-year passenger traffic but paradoxically painted a rosy estimate that it will see merely a 50 percent decline in passengers over the next fiscal year and only a 21 percent revenue reduction.
The disconnect is explained by the $91 million in CARES Act federal taxpayer bailout money paid to or earmarked for SDCRAA. Taxpayer dollars are being used to give rent waivers to the airport’s concessionaires and at least $38 million in fee waivers to the airlines. But the airline usage fees (which are passed down to consumers in ticket prices) were projected by SDCRAA’s president and chief executive, Kim Becker, to “pay for a good part of the $3 billion airport development plan,” or ADP. Who is going to fund and pay for it now?
Remarkably, against this backdrop, SDCRAA is moving forward with the airport development plan to add 11 new gates and overnight jet parking places. Becker announced that groundbreaking is scheduled for 2021.
SDCRAA’s plan is imprudent at best and regretfully requires Quiet Skies San Diego to continue its legal challenge to the ADP based on the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit says the SDCRAA is putting profit above human health by not mitigating jet noise that is known to cause serious cardiovascular, stroke and cognitive human health risks. SDCRAA calls the noise “significant but unavoidable.” We say otherwise.
We are still in the midst of the “Part 150 study” that aims to make noise mitigation recommendations to the FAA. When the FAA implemented NextGen/Metroplex in 2017 [new airspace and air traffic procedures], the northbound departure path became a concentrated aerial freeway close to the shorelines of Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla. La Jolla residents filed thousands of new noise complaints.
If the airline industry recovers and there is a return to pre-COVID-19 passenger and flight operations, the noise will return, with serious consequences for human health.
On May 28 this year, SDCRAA held update meetings about the Part 150 study where SDCRAA’s consultants shared several flight path alternatives to potentially mitigate noise, including those conceived of and advanced by Quiet Skies La Jolla some 18 months ago. The most helpful alternatives are:
• Flying departures further west over the ocean to new waypoints far from shore before being permitted to turn north or south
• A proposal to narrow the dispersion from the runway from 15 degrees to 10 degrees in light of new navigation and safety protocols
One of the leading proposals is Alternative 1B, which would concentrate departures over the Mission Bay jetty and require planes to fly to a new waypoint, which should be two to three nautical miles offshore.
We will be requesting noise modeling to assess how much distance is required to achieve a sufficient noise reduction.
You can review the proposals and send comments to SDCRAA via its website at sannoisestudy.com and/or to Quiet Skies La Jolla at firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will compile them into our response.
Anthony Stiegler is co-founder and secretary of Quiet Skies La Jolla. ◆