Down a notch

Down a notch — The Sonoma County Aviation Commission is analyzing complaint data in order to mitigate noise in the surrounding area caused by planes that use the airport. The full implementation of a new flight pattern system could take three years.

New solar panels will also make airport one of the first all-electric of its size

The Sonoma County Aviation Commission is nearing the end of its initial study of noise complaints, Airport Manager Jon Stout reported at its regular meeting Sept. 19 at the county airport.

The data should be compiled and ready for analyses in the coming weeks, Stout said. After that, there will be a lengthy process of shifting flight paths to mitigate noise over more populous parts of the of Windsor which could take two to three years.

The length of time to implement noise reduction is due to the complexity of the airport’s approaches and coordinating changes with both airlines and general aviation pilots. In addition, all changes are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The airport has certain measures in place now for noise reduction, including limiting certain airlines to flying during the day. New changes discussed primarily had to do with visual approaches, which are less restricted by the FAA than instrument approaches.

One idea from Commissioner Scott Ahrens was to switch approach for runway 14 to a right formation, which would shift traffic over to the less densely populated west side of Windsor. General ideas were to straighten out and lengthen final approaches — the line of flight directly before landing — in order to allow larger planes to come in without having to increase power, and therefore engine noise, to maintain a proper angle of attack.

Stout also said that patterns around Truckee, Sparks and South Hills airports may also provide good models.

The airport has received 228 complaints for the year-to-date through August. This represents a 178% increase over last year, which Stout attributed to “a perfect storm of factors: seasonal airline increases, a change in the airline fleet mix, a larger Grove event and Napa runway construction.”

Most of the complaints were in regard to jets versus propeller powered planes. The two airlines most complained about were Alaska and Sky West airlines, Stout said. He said complaints of helicopters were steady and he hadn’t seen any spikes.

The airport has a direct line residents can call to log complaints. Not everyone uses it to complain, however, as was the case with Loni McDonald.

“She called to tell us that she likes living near the airport, not only because of the convenience of not having to drive to SFO, but that she actually likes the sounds of the airplanes. She just wanted to call to give us good news instead of a complaint and, given that we need a local airport, we have no right to complain,” the form reads.

Others are not as positive, such as the complaint from Leslie Kneeland.

“A jet flew so low it panicked her elderly mother; only used one swear word in her message,” the complaint form reads, which was followed by another complaint. “Just when she thought she had recovered from the noise of the earlier flight, another plane came in so low and loud she feels like she lives in a war zone. Mild profanity in this message.”

The complaint was for a private jet that flew over at 6:30 a.m. at 1,330 feet, the records show. There were four other complaints filed by Kneeland in that timeframe.

If complaints log the time and rough description of a plane along with the person’s address, the airport can vector to see what plane it was and exactly how high it flew, which would tell them whether the plane was actually flying too low, which is against FAA regulations.

In addition to reviewing complaints, the airport is also expected to host Windsor Town Manager Ken McNabb and Councilmember Sam Salmon to give them a better idea of what the flight patterns look like, both from the ground and in the air.

Sunny outlook

The airport will be installing new solar panels that will make the airport 100% green in terms of energy use. The panels are expected to be installed by April, and should generate power by July. The power generated is expected to be in excess of what the airport needs, and it plans to sell the excess to the county jail.

There is a concern that the panels may cause glare issues to the control tower at certain times of the day, which may change installation or force control to move to a different area at those times.

The panels should offset 2.5 million miles of air travel, Stout said.

There is also forward progress with a request for proposal (RFP) for the parking lot. The final award will be on Nov. 5. The company that will manage the lot will be more expensive, Stout said, but whichever is chosen could take a more proactive approach.

New possibilites for the services provided at the parking lot include reserving spaces and prepaying parking fees to a car wash and possibly even dry-cleaning services for the businessperson on the go.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 17 at 8 a.m. All meetings are held in the airport manager’s office, 2290 Airport Blvd., Santa Rosa.

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