Noise

A plane comes in for a landing while another plane circles the sky at the Half Moon Bay Airport on April 15, 2022. Adam Pardee / Review

Airplanes have been circling over the unincorporated neighborhoods of Montara, El Granada and Moss Beach for decades. Now, after an astronomical spike in complaints about plane noise near the Half Moon Bay Airport, residents and county officials are attempting to get pilots to stop flying so low, so often, over the Midcoast.

During the Midcoast Community Council’s April 13 meeting, the advisory board heard from Jerry Kaplan of the Coastside Airport Noise Abatement Alliance, a group of neighbors in the unincorporated area working to reduce noise at the airport. Kaplan said planes flying low over the homes near the airport have become increasingly common in recent years. Specifically, he said the number of “touch and gos,” when a plane touches down on the tarmac and takes off without stopping, is the biggest gripe.

The Half Moon Bay Airport is one of three general aviation airports on the Peninsula, along with those in Palo Alto and San Carlos. The latter two have flight towers and schools, which means there is less downtime to get off the ground in Half Moon Bay. The Coastside Airport Noise Abatement Alliance has data to show that most of the planes operating out of Half Moon Bay are coming over the hill. The group is now working with airport management to develop voluntary recommendations to limit each aircraft to three to five takeoffs per visit to the airport.

Kaplan said the group wants modifications to the county’s noise abatement guidelines to reduce the number of takeoffs per visit. Officially labeled the Voluntary HAF Noise Abatement Procedures, Kaplan said this change in policy is primarily targeted toward flight instructors and student pilots from the other two regional airports concentrating training in Half Moon Bay.

During a sample size on a sunny weekend from Feb. 5-6, the group identified 123 out of 157 takeoffs, nearly 80 percent, as touch-and-gos. It appeared to be a small minority of planes, as just 11 of the 72 planes that weekend were responsible for 51 percent of the takeoffs. One Moss Beach resident claimed to have a recording of 51 planes going over his house in two hours on Dec. 18.

“The noise we’re experiencing is not general from a lot of different aircraft coming and going,” Kaplan said. “It’s from a very small number of aircraft that are here to do lessons.”

Kaplan said several Bay Area flight schools voluntarily agreed to implement the limits without the push from airport management. The voluntary policy would apply to all aviation traffic, not just flight schools.

Between January 2018 and September 2021, the county received 14 noise complaints on average per month from El Granada, Montara and Half Moon Bay and Moss Beach. But by October 2021, noise complaints skyrocketed. Between October 2021 and March 2022, the county averaged 66 complaints per month, with 60 complaints coming from Moss Beach residents alone in October 2021.

Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly said regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration have also made an impact on the Coastside’s flight patterns, particularly over Montara. In 2018, the FAA changed roughly 30 miles of airspace around San Francisco International Airport, which essentially made it easier for planes to fly at lower altitudes than previously allowed, Kelly said. The FAA added a north-south corridor over the neighborhood. While those flying at 3,500 feet or higher have to talk to air traffic control, pilots can now legally fly under the route at around 2,500 feet to 1,500 feet.

Based on the feedback from the organization, the county is considering updating its Voluntary Noise Abatement Procedures for Half Moon Bay. The current policy recommends pilots flying over the Coastside abide by certain procedures. The recommendations include takeoff and landing patterns and states that pilots should not perform touch-and-go takeoffs and avoid flying over homes whenever possible, which outspoken residents say happens all the time.

The problem, said Davi Howard, the county’s airport communication specialist, is that it’s all a voluntary system, and the county does not have enforcement. Howard’s role in Bay Area aviation is unique, as Half Moon Bay and San Carlos airports are the only general aviation airports in the greater Bay Area with a full-time employee dedicated to noise management.

Much of the work involves communicating with pilots and flight schools seeking compliance. Still, Howard was optimistic about the outreach done by the airport so far. He said based on his flight track reviews over the last month, he’s seen a drop from more than 20-plus circuits typically seen around the Half Moon Bay airport, and it’s now closer to four or five.

“We can’t penalize, we can’t fine, we can’t make them do it,” Howard said. “But we do try to appeal to their sense of community. And for the most part, we’re starting to see some results from that.” 

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

(13) comments

Dan Stegink

If only there was a way we could find out who Felon & Felon Dirt Recovery LLC were up to politically. Hmm. Does anyone remember the names of the three felons convicted in the San Francisco Nuru Public Works scandal?

https://powersearch.sos.ca.gov/advanced.php

Zack B

I am not a pilot nor an attorney, but why not have these flight clubs do their low altitude circles over the ocean?

Dan Stegink

Thanks Starhead. I sympathetic to the problem and in 2015 built one of the first noise reporting apps LoudJet.

https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/residents-to-air-out-airport-grievances/

We met with FAA DC several times and long story short FAA refused to compile or store any data.

I'm more interested in public transparency about the potential of Half Moon Bay airport closure than protecting noise emitters but think it's very likely that some agency has ALREADY done lead sampling at the airport and think it's likely there's a SF Public Works-felon-related entity that has already put in a bid on the soil reclamation.

That said, San Mateo Airport, Belmont Airport, Mountain View Airports are all huge expensive housing developments that were sold to the public as affordable housing.

Just be aware that all these buildouts, from the giant new Fire House to the Roundabouts, are being built to handle about three times the current amount of housing we have on the Coastside.

starhead

Dan - your comments are not relevant here as the issue is not planes located at the airport but frequent and excessive circling over homes by flight schools and clubs from over the hill. They have occupied this airspace with no opportunity for regulation or feedback. This has no impact on the existence of the airport, normal arrivals and departures or emergency services. None of these things are being challenged. Out of town pilots doing 10-20 sequential circles at low altitude over many homes that are NOT part of the normal arrival/departure path is what is being discussed. It is the equivalent of someone running a leaf blower at your front door every few minutes for hours on end. That sort of pollution deserves consideration and has substantial impact on the ability to enjoy our property, homes that existed well before the flight schools opened and certainly before the recent adoption of our area as a free auxiliary training ground after the same activities were limited at their home airports in San Carlos and Palo Alto.

Dan Stegink

Thanks to Review reader Joe who pointed me to this FAA document showing the HMB airport cancelled all airport services during the pandemic. The document also appears to show there are only 13 (12 single engine, 1 multi engine) aircraft at that location, and that location recently housed about eighty aircraft.

https://www.airportiq5010.com/5010ReportRouter/HAF.pdf

Eighty aircraft number from San Mateo County:

https://www.smcgov.org/publicworks/half-moon-bay-airport

Dan Stegink

I am not an attorney, but an attorney who contacted me regarding the below comments corrected the timeline.

1. The 60 month timeframe is inaccurate due to Airport Improvement Program grant obligations lasting twenty years, unless the grant funds are used to purchase land for the airport, or if the airport is on surplussed Federal property, and since...

2. The HMB airport was deeded in perpetuity to San Mateo County in 1947 as surplussed property by the US Navy (who acquired it from US Army) so...

3. The usual method to circumvent this closure would be simply be an un-noticed closed door session between the FAA, US Dept Justice and San Mateo County attorneys and because it is federal property would likely not require public notification similar to...

4. The unnoticed, closed door 2022 Santa Monica Airport closure notice summarized below:

"Santa Monica Airport will close... The City Council voted 4 to 3 to approve the settlement, which was worked out during two weeks of negotiations with the FAA and U.S. Department of Justice.

Supporters of the airport were stunned by the agreement and the closed-door nature of the discussions — a view shared by some anti-airport activists.

“I’m just shocked that a backroom decision was made without any public discussion” said Mark Smith, a pilot, aircraft owner and member of the Santa Monica Airport Assn. board. “The fact remains that this is a national asset and a critical part of the national airspace system.”

Today, the facility has about 270 aircraft and averages roughly 250 takeoffs and landings per day. Its tenants have included celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise.

Supporters say Santa Monica is a reliever airport for Los Angeles International Airport and provides substantial economic benefits to the region as well as a base of operations for major emergencies and medical flights.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the FAA action to forgo further legal action” said Christian Fry, president of the Santa Monica Airport Assn. “The people who lose here are the people of West L.A. who will see major development.”

Fry said that closing the airport will eliminate height restrictions for new buildings constructed near the airport or on land that was below its flight paths.

“Get ready for the high-rise wall,” Fry added. “It won’t all be a park.”

Airport opponents contend the airport should be closed because of noise, the risk of a serious crash in one of the surrounding neighborhoods, and aircraft emissions, particularly lead and fine bits of carbon."

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-santa-monica-airport-20170128-story.html

Dan Stegink

THIS AIN'T NO SLIPPERY SLOPE- it's a six year blueprint and your electeds aren't asleep at the wheel, they're driving the semi.

Step 1. Evict beloved restaurant from county-owned airport.

2. Whoops, is there lead-contaminated soil? Found it!

3. There's a giant sign on the highway, maybe I do hate this vital coastal emergency asset after all, didn't they regularly wake me up?

4. Look, they banned overnight parking at the airport and ten-tupled fees. Serves those billionaires with their vintage biplanes right, who cares!

6. Those pesky biplanes filed a fedral lawsuit, thank goodness an out-of-town law firm whose lawyers who have never won a small airport defense case are protecting the Airport... oh wait, they lost? Didn't it ALMOST look like they threw that game?

6. US District Court Judge says Airport is "out of compliance" and immediately ineligible for federal airport funds.

7. San Mateo County: 60 month shutdown clock starts ticking the day federal funding ceases

8. Airport shuts down, contracts terminated, what a relief, now we can sleep on Friday afternoons!

9. Felon & Felon Dirt Recovery LLC fresh of their SF Public Works-related prison sentences moves in to add 20 feet of height to the property. Wow, you can see the ocean, we should make this a park too!

10. Oh look, APN 037292030 is being subdivided from one parcel of 319 acres into 2779 different APNs of 5000 sq ft each.

11. Thank goodness friendly neighborhood City Council-Realtors are "willing to bid" Weird how we never heard about that auction in advance, no?

12. Wha-what? 2779 parcels is being split to 5558 parcels? I thought we couldn't do that in the coatal zone.. Ohhhh. SB9 fineprint? I see, thank you.

13. Thank goodness there's a three story height limit there. Wait, because a highway with bus service goes by it can now be an HCD high priority project and eligible for three bonus stories on the Dec 2024 map?

14. Six story apartments won't be bad, at least there is only one of ... wait there's ten of them with still no traffic study?

12. Wow, SB9 allows Coastal Development Permits to completely avoid a public hearing and since the Local Coastal Plan wasn't amended no one even has the purview to require a traffic study?

13. Who knew SB10 allowed Board of Supes to override a popular last minute ballot measure attempt to protect the airport?

14. At least "North Moon Bay" will be affordable hou.... oh, it's market rate for waterfront property and $1.8M is now affordable (actual statement from County Planning last month) ?

15. Good news, our 12,500 new neighbors from Facebook love the coast and they all drive electric cars too so we shouldn't even hear them on those great new roundabouts, right?

16. Say, one of those 2026 Supervisor candidates had a great idea... why don't we just connect Half Moon Bay and North Moon Bay? Afterall, we need the housing for the Facebook kids....

John Charles Ullom

Using the systems that Kaplan has mastered, locals contacted a Flight School and informed them about some problematic activity. The following is a response from a Flight School Manger at San Carlos Airport.

_________________________________________________________________

Hello REDACTED,

Thank you for bringing the flight on Friday by one of our aircraft, N****K, to my attention. I have reviewed the flight track and altitude data of that flight. While the pilot and CFI in the airplane operated the aircraft in conformity with applicable law and, it appears, with current KHAF voluntary guidelines, I was dismayed to see that they did violate an REDACTED policy put in place to ensure that pilots using our aircraft do so in a manner which is courteous to airport neighbors, about which I have spoken at length to Ginny.

Our policy prohibits users of our aircraft from making more than five touch-and-goes at HAF, and recommends further limiting such maneuvers to three in any one flight (and also prohibits such training activities outside of specified hours such as early mornings, etc.). Flight records show the flight on Friday included a total of eight such maneuvers.

As a result I have spoken with the responsible CFI and he has asked me to convey his sincere apology for this error. He and his student were enjoying the fine weather and simply and inadvertently neglected to observe our mandatory policy. We have taken appropriate disciplinary measures and I will use this as an example in my next meeting with our CFIs regarding the importance of our policies and being courteous to airport neighbors.

Again, thank you for bringing this to my attention. In the future, if one of our aircraft is violating our policy or is otherwise behaving in a manner which is discourteous please do not hesitate to email me and I will follow up immediately.

Regards

REDACTED

__________________________________________________________________

There are few other examples that could be shared but they are pretty much the same. The Flight Schools want to be good neighbors but they don't have a system in place to monitor their customers.

But, it would be pretty easy to build one. Anybody can collect the data needed using any old computer, 30 bucks worth of radio gear, and some free software. It is easy to specify a GEO Fence that will record flights of interest. Say all flights that come with in five miles of HAF and below 3000ft AGL.

The next step would be to hire a good SQL expert to create queries that would extract the ID's, GPS Coordinates, and Times of POTENTIALLY problematic flights. Using the resulting dataset, it is a simple task to configure various opens source software packages to create visual representations of POTENTIALLY problematic flights.

Finally, reports would be created listing the POTENTIALLY problematic flights, the visual representation, and the contact info of the aircraft owner. At that point, the reports would be routed to the owners. It would be a trivial operation to create a database of local flight schools and their aircraft. Using that, the data would be sent to the right school, assuming the POTENTIALLY problematic aircraft was from a local Flight School. Which in the case of POTENTIALLY problematic flights, is most often the case.

Using the system described above, Flight Schools would have the tools to monitor the activity of their rented aircraft and their Flight Instructors. Ms. Kelley would have access to a list of frequent offenders and be able to identify trends. The neighbors would be able to monitor compliance in real time.

My understanding is that Mr. Kaplan is some sort of computer wizard. He is probably way ahead of me on how to collect and use ADSB data. He and his group have made a great start. More power to them.

JustinStockman

This is such a pleasant change from the typical rancor that dominates discussions on this subject. Pragmatic, compromise driven discussion is at the center of any healthy community. Thanks for setting a great example.

starhead

Perhaps surprisingly asking the flight schools and flying clubs to be good neighbors and create policies for pilots who use their planes has resulted in progress. I hope the county adopts these limits on out of town flight schools buzzing our homes (not in direct proximity to the airport). It seems more than reasonable.

John Charles Ullom

No need to count on the county. Identifying the aircraft owner and then contacting the proper flight school, in real time, is the sure fire best solution. The Flight School mangers are responsive. They will take your concerns to the CFIs and Pilots. It has worked and will work in the future. Combine this distributed action approach with Kaplan's coordinated data driven strategy and you all will see a change.

JerryK

Thanks for the nice article. I made the presentation to the MCC. A few corrections/clarifications.

"The recommendations ... states that pilots should not perform touch-and-go takeoffs". This is not correct. The current Voluntary Half Moon Bay Airport Noise Abatement Procedures do not reference touch and gos. We (the Coastside Airport Noise Abatement Coalition) are asking airport management to add a recommended limit of "3 to 5" touch and gos per flight to the formal published Noise Abatement Procedures.

That said, airport management has informally reached out to the several flight schools and flying clubs in the area to ask them to limit the number of touch and gos their pilots perform in a single visit to HMB airport.

As they have gotten the word out, the schools and pilots have been very cooperative with curbing excessive training use of the airport, with a few exceptions.

When members of the community observe planes exceeding the guidelines, they should file complaints using this simple form:

https://www.planenoise.com/sanmateo/tY5Ru4wa/

To help identify the planes, I recommend using one of the free plane tracking applications, for example, https://www.flightradar24.com. This shows in real time the planes in the sky near the airport, and if you click on a plane it will show you it's flight path and identification information.

Airport management investigates and replies to ALL such complaints, so this is very effective!

starhead

This is so great - the community and pilots working together to make life tolerable and still permit normal airport operations. Thanks for the wonderful presentation, Jerry. Thanks for the well written article, HMB Review. We are all in this together! Steve Gallup

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