Airplane noise has become a deeply frustrating nuisance for communities throughout the Bay Area. It impacts the ability of constituents to live comfortably in their homes with near-constant disturbances, depriving people of sleep and peace of mind. This, in turn, significantly impacts people’s work performance, mental health, and overall quality of life. It’s clear that there is a great deal of room for improvement and more needs to be done to mitigate this threat to health and quality of life. Congresswoman Speier has made mitigation of this issue one of her core priorities as a Member of Congress.
In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began implementation of NextGen RNAV flight procedures in the Bay Area, ostensibly to address some of these concerns. The RNAV is part of a nationwide FAA modernization program that uses precise satellite navigation in place of the aging ground-based radio beacon navigation system and provides efficient straight-line flight paths to help reduce flight time as well as fuel use and emissions.
However, the NextGen RNAV procedures have failed to address many constituents’ concerns and, in some cases, the program appears to have exacerbated some problems due to an unrelenting barrage of daily flights that ramped up to pre-2001 levels by 2013, and continue to increase year by year. Many long-standing flight paths were eliminated and replaced by new NextGen RNAV procedures, which merely shifted the noise to new areas. As the installation of NextGen RNAV routes have expanded, more communities have been impacted. This is unacceptable and the Congresswoman remains committed to doing everything she can to ensure the FAA addresses and responds to residents’ concerns.
As part of the FAA Administrator’s response to congressional complaints, FAA Western-Pacific Regional Administrator Glen Martin appeared at Congresswoman Speier’s August 2015 meeting of elected and community leaders. At this meeting, Administrator Martin heard how families could not sleep through the night, how conversations would be disrupted throughout the day, and that the noise was unrelenting. Community leaders also shared suggestions to improve flight procedures that would help reduce noise impact.
REPORT AND PROCESS
In response to the congressional inquiries and community outreach, the FAA compiled an initiative to address noise concerns in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties and presented it to Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Panetta in November 2017. The final report, known as FAA Initiative – Phase Two, listed a number of suggested changes to flight procedures.
Since that time, the FAA has evaluated the changes using a seven-step process:
- Detailed Analysis
- Fly-ability Assessment
- Operational Assessment
- Feasibility Determination
- Stakeholder Feedback
- Environmental Review
- Safety Assessment
RECOMMENDATIONS SUBMITTED TO THE FAA
The final report and recommendations from the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals can be downloaded HERE.
Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Sam Farr (CA-20) 1 transmitted these two reports with recommendations to then-FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta with a letter requesting future progress updates. The recommendations made by both the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable and the SCSBA had to undergo the same FAA research, analysis, and feasibility determination as was performed for the initial recommendations in the May 16, 2016 FAA Feasibility Study.
The Members urged Administrator Huerta to take action as soon as possible to respond to these recommendations. Read the letter here.
FAA INITIAL RESPONSE
While awaiting the final report, Administrator Huerta provided a brief progress report to Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Panetta stating that the FAA "is carefully reviewing, analyzing, and considering the detailed report and recommendations." Read his letter from February 6, 2017 here.
The FAA continued to analyze the recommendations submitted to the FAA in the November 17, 2016 reports by the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable and the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals.
1 Rep. Sam Farr represented California’s 20th congressional district until 2016, when he announced his retirement. Rep. Leon Panetta was elected in his place and has represented CA-20 since 2017.
In May 2017, Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Panetta spoke with Administrator Michael Huerta, urging him to release the final response report. Click here to read the Members’ joint statement.
On July 25, 2017, the FAA released its FAA Initiative - Phase Two report in response to recommendations submitted by the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable and the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals.
FAA – PHASE TWO FINAL RESPONSE REPORT
On November 16, 2017, Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Panetta released the final FAA Initiative - Phase Two report. The report is divided into four major categories based on the status of each recommendation:
- Addressed Concern: These recommendations are already being addressed - primarily by NCT TRACON. This does not necessarily mean that an individual item has been completely addressed and solved, but that it is known and is being addressed
- Feasible and could be implemented in the Short Term (less than 2 years)
- Feasible and could be implemented in the Long Term (more than 2 years)
- Not Endorsed by the FAA: These recommendations are not feasible by the FAA based on some aspect of their non-compliance with FAA standards.
Certain remaining recommendations are categorized as: “Not endorsed by the Select Committee” and “Not under the FAA’s jurisdiction.” Note: The SFO RT only submitted recommendations that they unanimously endorsed.
The final FAA Report included recommendations to reduce the impact of nighttime overflights by routing most southbound SFO and OAK departures over the bay and ocean, and by routing most arrivals from the north over the bay. Other recommendations include a return to close the historical split of arrivals from the north, which will result in increased arrivals from the north to fly over the bay rather than the Peninsula.
Recommendations that seemed promising but were deemed not feasible by the FAA included the creation of dual offset approaches to SFO Runways 28, which would have provided for two flight paths closer to the mid-bay than to Foster City; the implementation of an RNAV overlay of the traditional OFFSHORE Departure; and the creation of a Runway 10 RNAV departure overlay of the traditional DUMBARTON Departure.
In light of the need for greater transparency and public input, Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Panetta* established the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals (SCSBA) to work alongside the long-standing SFO Airport/Community Roundtable.
While the SCSBA has focused on South Bay arrivals, especially the SERFR Arrival, including its impact on Peninsula cities underneath the flight path in the vicinity of the MENLO intersection, the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable has focused on departures and arrivals, which impact both San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
Each of these forums has worked extensively with FAA staff on technical issues; held public meetings, study sessions, and technical meetings; received written communications; and received public input. After much consideration, discussion, and debate, each forum voted on a series of recommendations, which have been presented to Reps. Speier, Eshoo, and Farr.
August 12, 2019 – Steve Dickson was appointed as the new FAA Administrator after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a five-year term.
April 27, 2018 – An initial FAA Initiative Update Report was published. Further FAA Updates are to be periodically provided to Members of Congress for release to the public. See below for the most recent update report.
March 6, 2018 – Reps. Speier, Anna Eshoo (CA-18), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) sent a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell, requesting a formal update on the progress of the recommendations made by the SFO Airport/Community Roundtable and the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals. A follow up letter was sent on March 29, 2018.