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Guest commentary: New departure procedure would provide jet noise relief for coastal communities

A jet takes off over Point Loma from San Diego International Airport in 2016.
A jet takes off over Point Loma from San Diego International Airport in 2016.
(File)

This is an update about the “Part 150" study on commercial jet noise associated with departures from San Diego International Airport. On July 20, your La Jolla representatives submitted our comments and our proposal for coastal communitywide noise mitigation. These are the highlights:

Quiet Skies La Jolla retained aeronautical engineering and noise consulting firm ABCX2 to offer noise mitigation opinions and a report. The core recommendation is to implement the “ELSO” procedure (equivalent lateral spacing operations), alternating three departure paths to disperse noise and keep flights farther from our coast and over the ocean.

Four central design principles underly this proposal:

• Avoiding any negative impact on the airport’s operational throughput, capacity and safety concerns

• Dispersing noise and avoiding repetitive concentration over any single community

• Not shifting noise from one community to another

• Making effective use of the Pacific Ocean to minimize noise along the coast

ELSO is a new departure procedure enabled by the Federal Aviation Administration’s rollout of the NextGen Metroplex navigation system. Using this new satellite “performance-based navigation” technology allows planes to safely depart on the three course tracks (275, 285 and 295 degrees) and then fly farther offshore before picking up the next leg of their course.

The benefits to the coastal communities, including La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Point Loma, would be substantial. For La Jolla, it would keep northbound flights about one mile farther offshore.

The full text of our comments and the ABCX2 report can be found on our website at quietskieslajolla.org/noise-mitigation.

There are other benefits to our proposal. ELSO is a preferred, safe and approved FAA solution leveraging the nationwide airspace benefits of NextGen, reducing fuel burn, taxi time and carbon dioxide emissions. The FAA’s air traffic control can implement it without additional workload. Analysis showed that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta saved $20 million by implementing ELSO.

Modeling ELSO also will satisfy the FAA’s obligations under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to study noise mitigation solutions, and the FAA already has approved ELSO in official FAA “document changes” to its Air Traffic Control Handbook.

ELSO has been implemented in Atlanta and Detroit and soon will be in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. As the busiest single-runway airport in the United States, San Diego is a perfect candidate for ELSO. It is the state of the art and is consistent with our “smart growth” principle — facilitating economic growth (and now recovery) for San Diego tourism, business travel and airport operations while mitigating noise for the city’s residents.

CEQA litigation

The California Environmental Quality Act litigation is progressing, addressing whether the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s taxpayer-funded $3 billion expansion plan for Terminal 1 adequately disclosed the human health risks associated with jet noise.

The CEQA case challenges the airport authority’s assertion that more jet noise from additional flight operations is a “necessary but unavoidable” consequence. We say the airport authority is putting profit ahead of human health.

“Neighborhoods and people pay the price for increased jet noise with their health,” said Dr. Matthew Price, president of Quiet Skies La Jolla and an interventional cardiologist at Scripps Clinic and director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Anderson Medical Pavilion at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. “Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated clear associations between jet noise and stress, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and atherosclerosis, sleep disruptions, cognitive abilities, anxiety and depression. These are serious risks to human health which are made much worse by more noise.”

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic calls into question whether San Diego still needs 11 additional gates, since air traffic continues to be off by 75 percent to 80 percent compared with 2019. Airlines are experiencing extreme financial distress, receiving federal support, laying off employees, mothballing planes and being pessimistic about a return to pre-COVID operational levels for years. So why is the airport authority plowing ahead now with the gate expansion plan? We have suggested a litigation stay or to dismiss the litigation if the airport authority withdraws its gate expansion plan, but those proposals were rejected. So, litigate we must to protect La Jolla and the San Diego coastal communities from a return to the noise levels experienced in 2019 in the event air travel does return to pre-pandemic levels.

Quiet Skies San Diego is in favor of smart growth, economic recovery and expansion, putting the tourism industry back to work and a return to some semblance of normalcy. If updating Terminal 1 and adding more gates are necessary, do so with accompanying noise mitigation measures in our ELSO proposal.

For more information, visit quietskieslajolla.org or email info@quietskieslajolla.org.

Anthony Stiegler is co-founder and secretary of Quiet Skies La Jolla.


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