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Airport Noise Report Seeks to Objectify SMO Record  

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

April 26, 2011 -- Besieged by complaints from residents and resolutions by elected officials, Santa Monica Airport (SMO) staff tried to counter strongly held opinions about airport noise with facts and figures Monday night.

SMO's 2010 Noise Management Program Report – which quantifies the overall activity at the airport as well as noise violations – was presented at the Airport Commission meeting.

The numbers show a decline in the number of flights taking off and landing at SMO since 2001, and a steady drop in noise violations in the same ten-year period.

The violations are detected by noise monitors near each end of the runway, which measure the number of decibels of arriving and departing aircraft.

In addition to the monitors, residents are encouraged to contact the airport if they think they hear an aircraft that is too loud, and SMO has added a web-based monitoring system, Web Trak, to make it easier for people to identify the offending craft and for SMO staff to follow up on their complaints.

And SMO has a curfew on takeoffs and a recommended curfew on landings as well as practices to cut down on noise to further reduce disruption.

The question is, do these steps work? The numbers seem to indicate that they do.

The report shows a ten-year low of 116 instances when aircraft noise exceeded a peak of 95 decibels measured by SMO's Remote Monitoring Stations.

Of these, 93 offending aircraft were jets, 23 were propeller aircraft and none were helicopters.

By contrast, SMO recorded 538 noise violations in 2001.

The airport ought to be a quieter place, if the number of aircraft “operations” – that is, takeoffs and landings – are any measure.

In 2001, 147,869 operations took place at SMO. In 2010, that number had dropped to 104,950.

And in just one year, from 2009 to 2010, total operations had dropped from 111,688 to 104,950.

Each kind of aircraft saw decreased operations from 2009 to 2010, and jet and propellor operations fell sharply in recent years, though not in the same time periods.

Propellor aircraft operations – which represent 85 per cent of total operations – went down from

217,892 in 1999 to 89,779 in 2010, and dropped from 95,830 to 89,779 from 2009 to 2010.

Jet aircraft operations dropped from 13,252 in 2001 to 12,853 in 2010, down from a high of 18,575 in 2007. In 2009, there were 13,888 jet operations.

Helicopter operations actually increased from 2,021 in 2001 to 2,318 in 2010, but dropped from a high of 3,746 in 2005. In 2009, there were 2,510 helicopter operations.

But it doesn't just matter how many aircraft use SMO. When they use it matters to residents who want to enjoy peace and quiet at night.

That's why the NMP report spells out the SMO's curfews, both mandatory and recommended.

Aircraft aren't allowed to depart between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. weekdays, and they have to wait until 8 a.m. on weekends. In addition, pilots are asked to avoid landing between the same hours. Exceptions to the mandatory curfew are allowed in case of emergency.

There were 22 departure curfew violations in 2010 and 280 arrival curfew violations.

Of the arrival curfew violations, 73 per cent occurred during the first and last hour of the curfew.

It also matters to neighbors where the aircraft actually fly.

During the first half of 2010, the FAA conducted a test in which piston-powered craft turned over Sunset Park and Ocean Park, provoking some 40,000 complaints from residents.

Now craft that rely on visual navigation take off over the Penmar Gold Course, and those that rely on instruments to navigate fly straight toward the ocean, paths that anger residents of other neighborhoods.

In either case, exceptions to the flight paths may be made in cases were meteorological conditions or safety concerns call for them.

For more information, click on the 2010 Annual Noise Report at Item 2b of the Airport Commission Agenda.


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