Fuming Over Jet Noise

Indy graphic: John Wayne Airport flight tracks for the week of March 14-20, 2011, combined with highways from Google maps and the airport's approved departure route, known as STREL. Because the image does not reflect altitude, it is unclear what impact these flights have on ground-level noise.

Officials at John Wayne Airport and the local Federal Aviation Administration office are getting an earful of complaints from some Laguna Beach residents about increased airline traffic and noise, city officials confirmed.

“With the exception of Santa Anas, we’ve never had huge jets over our house,” said Laguna Canyon resident Keri Barriga, who described being subjected to nonstop flyovers from 7 a.m. until past 12 a.m. Airport officials told her post-midnight arrivals were international flights en route to LAX. “One of the guys from the FAA said basically get your friends together and start screaming,” she said.

City Manager John Pietig started receiving complaints in April and has delivered them to aviation officials, but expressed uncertainty about the scope of the problem. “I don’t know there has been an increase. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain what flights are causing the problem. The info I’m getting is not completely consistent.”

Airport authorities say noise complaints from Newport Coast and Laguna Beach have not markedly changed even as the total volume of flights has descended since peaking in 2007.

One North Laguna resident that keeps an expert eye on the local skies has also not observed any changes overhead. Spider Wills, an aircraft recognition expert for the U.S. Air Force from 1963-65 who still tracks planes recreationally, said, “I haven’t noticed anything irregular at all. I would say it’s about standard, and standard altitude. I watch aircraft all the time. It’s not like they are flying low and buzzing the place. The guy that’s irritating is sometimes the sheriff’s department flies around here and they make a lot of noise, but what are you going to do?”

Newport Beach resident Bob Pastore, a 37-year pilot and air traffic control consultant to the FAA, described a recent incremental change in the sanctioned departure path from John Wayne airport in the April 1 edition of the Newport Beach Independent.

“JWA has two primary departure paths for airliners. If they are headed for the northwest or the Bay Area, the navigation chart follows the Back Bay, then to Catalina Island and a right turn towards LAX.  Flights heading east, southeast, and northeast cross the shoreline then arc to the left to several charted waypoints downcoast, and then fly to Thermal, a navigation radio beacon just north of the Salton Sea. It is these flights which were causing the problem.”

These waypoints form a flight path known as STREL, a line that arcs approximately 15 miles over the ocean to allow planes room to ascend at least 7,000 feet before circling back over land with less audible impact. Previously, planes were directed even further out.

According to Pastore and the observations of local residents, a significant number of planes are cutting straight across the approved flight curve, putting them directly over the communities between Balboa Island and Dana Point at a much lower altitude and blasting them with engine noise.

When he flew, Pastore admits he routinely asked air traffic controllers for permission to cut the corner, a fuel- and time-saving maneuver.

FAA representative Ian Gregor in Los Angeles said there has been no appreciable change over the area in flight tracks, the actual path taken by aircraft, though he provided no specific accounting of flight deviations.

Pastore, who lives in Cameo Shores, attended a recent meeting with FAA officials and Newport Coast residents as a technical advisor. He said a representative of TRACON, the Southern California air traffic control body that directs pilots after they depart from their airport of origin, also received complaints from Laguna’s city manager. “So it’s a downcoast issue for everyone from Balboa Peninsula all the way to Dana Point,” he told residents.

Pastore notes that southbound flights from LAX circumnavigate the Palos Verdes Peninsula to avoid aggravating residents.

“I assure you the people on the coastline there many years ago had discussion with LAX people to avoid over flight. We just want the same consideration here that was given to their airspace years ago,” he said. “We are walking a fine line here with the FAA. We have to find a way to get the airplanes to fly the STREL completely. Our issue is where they are turning overhead.”

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