Arizona Has the Same Airport Neighbor Problems

By Gina Marie Lauchner Residents? Complaints Are Louder Than Scottsdale Airport Noise
By Gina Marie Lauchner

There are worse things than the noise from coming from airplanes. Bombs exploding, children crying, gunfire, sirens, nails on a chalkboard?.What might be even worse than that, though, are the thousands of grievances filed by Scottsdale residents about noise at Scottsdale Airport (SDL). Worse, because complaining has become an epidemic. It is contagious, and it?s spreading like wildfire. Speaking of wildfires, they?ve never been so bad in states like Washington, California and Arizona the past couple years. It?s thanks to airplanes and specially-trained pilots for battling flames and saving countless acres, animals, and lives. While Scottsdale Airport provides instruction to many of these firefighting pilots, it also catches the heat from residents about the noise. The number of complaints has gone sky-high:

2001 550 complaints filed
2002 3,300 complaints filed
2003 3,400 complaints filed
2004 9,870 complaints filed (numbers are rounded off)

Since August 2004, no single month has logged less 600 complaints.

In comparison, the average number of complaints per month was 79 in 1990?and that was when airport operations were the highest they?ve been to this day (265,819).

The area is growing, and that is supposed to be a good thing. Never mind the fact that Scottsdale Airport has been an important part of the town since World War II when it was actually a great honor for the men and women who trained and learned to fly there.

?Never mind? is what the complaining residents are saying. They say that the airport has already served its purpose.

A quiet airport would mean less runway activity, less business activity, less cash flow, fewer jobs, and decreased property values.

Fortunately, that is not the case. Vacancies in Arizona?s industry zone fell for the first time in four years to under eight percent the first quarter of 2005. The Scottsdale Airpark, in particular, is almost full.

Tourism heavily impacts Scottsdale in many ways, namely:

  • Job Market- Over 50,500, or 39% of all jobs in Scottsdale, are related to the tourism industry.
  • Economy- An estimated 7.4 million Scottsdale visitors in 2003 spent over $2.6 billion.
  • Moreover, 90% of Scottsdale visitors travel by air.

Arizona?s population is projected to more than double by 2025 to 11 million, according to the Census Bureau. There are more businesses, more homes, and more people. There might be more noise.

Apparently, a select group of residents are responsible for most of the complaints, but these residents are a risk to the airport?s growth. Ignoring these complaints can lead to bans such as restrictions on the amount of airport operations.

The 2000 Federal Aviation Noise Abatement Policy states: Prospective home buyers should research the location of airports and flight paths and determine if aircraft noise would affect their quality of life.” The City of Scottsdale is working with developers, residents and realtors regarding noise disclosure to ensure noise sensitive homebuyers are informed about aircraft noise and flight paths, and can make an informed decision before purchasing a home.

The obvious question: if they are ?noise-sensitive homebuyers?, didn?t they notice the noise before moving? Isn?t buying a home considered a big-ticket item, worthy of a little research? Doesn?t the decision include?at the very least?a peek around the neighborhood? Check out the nearby schools, library, fire and police stations, post office, liquor store?

Signs of a nearby airport should appear somewhere in there.

I admit, when we bought our home, five years ago, we did little research of the sort. Then again, we?re happy to have a home. We were aware that Scottsdale Airport was one mile away, but if we happened to be ?noise sensitive? people, we wouldn?t have moved next to an airport.

Of course a realtor should discuss the airport with homebuyers, but to legally require disclosure is silly. Maybe there could be a law prohibiting noise-sensitive homebuyers from buying homes near airports. Instead, certain residents continue to feel frustrated.

Lochard, a global company specializing in aviation noise, believes that building trust in the community is essential in managing airport noise problems. Likewise, the FAA continues to educate the wider community on the benefits of general aviation.

This is all very nice. It also might be a waste of time and money because complaints around Scottsdale escalate in spite the following:

-At Scottsdale Airport, pilots are prohibited or limited in procedures and flight paths to minimize noise for the residential areas around the airport

-Certain procedures are discouraged, like descents below 2,500 feet used to practice instrument approaches?but cannot be forbidden, as these low approaches must be learned and practiced by pilots to maintain their proficiency

-Maintenance run-ups are only to be done as far away as possible from the large residential area. A run-up is a safety-check of the airplane before take-off. Because of the extra noise, though, run-ups are not allowed at SDL between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

-To help prevent flying over the residential area south of the airport, the loudest, or Stage 2, jets should land at Runway 21 and takeoff on Runway 3. That is, unless air traffic or winds prevent it. Again, it is a safety issue

-The current runway program at SDL designating Runway 3 as the calm wind runway has resulted in fewer takeoffs to the south, and more takeoffs to the less-populated north

-A noise analysis even indicates that using Runway 3 results in far fewer people exposed to loud noise

-Statistics show that?while SDL is surely a busy place?total airport operations (202,500 in 2004) aren?t even as high as they used to be

Specifically, in 2000, airport operations went down from 230,500 the previous year to 206,500. There?s been a steady increase in total operations after a low 185,000 in 2001, but current numbers still aren?t as high as they were in 1999.

Most recently, in June 2005, there were 654 complaints filed. That number flew up to 1,236 in July. Did I mention that since June 6th, the airport has been closed for all nighttime takeoffs or landings?

Lochard says that noise is a perception, and the result of personal beliefs and expectations.

The truth that noise IS subjective best explains why the complaints continue despite efforts like extra noise abatement procedures, advisory boards, studies, education, meetings, and the manufacturing of newer and quieter airplanes. While such attempts should be commended, the fact is: Some people simply like to gripe.

But I think I?ve come up with a solution for the airplane noise protestors. This plan will take some restraint, but I think they?ll see results if they stick with it.

The idea is simple: If everyone who complains about airplane noise would stop using airplanes, it would naturally reduce noise levels.

That means never flying on a plane for a vacation, business trip, getaway, or funeral; and no more air travel for their visitors. It means not buying certain items from the grocery store, or dining out?especially for fresh seafood. It means no more mailing bills or letters, no more receiving mail, and no banking. It means no shipping packages, ordering from a catalogue, or accepting any deliveries? computer parts, office supplies, contact lenses, magazines, gifts, etc…

It means no more listening to traffic updates or accident reports. It means not attending concerts or baseball games, or watching any sports on television because that would support those who fly in airplanes.

And God forbid an anti-noise advocate is ever in need of emergency air-transport, an organ transplant, or air rescue from a mountain or ocean; or needs a police search to help find a kidnapped or missing relative.

Then there?s our military. I hate to go so far and say that protesting airplane noise is un-American, but if the shoe fits, right? In this case, if the shoe fits, find another one just like it and start walking: Airplanes deliver parts to car manufacturers? even IF the car is made in America. In fact, why not move to a country with less airplane noise?

In Mozambique, Africa, for example, there are only a couple dozen airports for a population of about 19,500,00. With only three main ports, it is probably void of much airplane noise. They also have a serious crime problem and an extremely high risk for Malaria and water-borne diseases. Or, at Sudan?s Geneina Airport last year, rebels? attacks halted further runway construction, no doubt resulting in?less airport noise! Even in Beijing, China, citizens were not even allowed to OWN an airplane until just recently.

We are blessed with rights in the United States, and flying is one of them. And everyone knows of our Right to Free Speech in this country, but it seems the right to be thankful for the right to speak freely gets overlooked.

Adults should realize their impact on future generations, and should demonstrate gratitude and contentment with life rather than opposition to it. The children looking up to them today may be the much-needed aerospace experts of tomorrow.

It?s not hard to live appreciatively, even when it comes to noise. I grew up less than a mile from a small but busy airport in suburban Chicago. Our airplane scanner was always on, and our Dad basically made a game out of it. When the really loud planes flew overhead, it WAS a little disturbing, I confess. We?d actually have to STOP talking, or say ??hold on a minute, here comes a plane…? if we were on the phone.

My family is probably not typical, but its philosophy can easily be duplicated. Still, my mom went above and beyond when it came to lessons in gratitude: Blindfolding us kids so we would value the gift of sight; tying our hands together so we would appreciate being able to use them; putting earmuffs on our ears to experience even the slightest hearing impairment?maybe she had other reasons, but that?s what I got out of it.

The point is, there are more things to be grateful for than there noises to hate. But, for the diehard, chronic complainers, I?m sure there?s a homeless family willing to trade places with you.

That sounds a bit preachy, but with 110+ degree temps in Arizona, it?s a valid consideration. Here is another: ?We should be grateful for the thing that most bothers us?. I just heard that the other day. Speaking of hearing, shouldn?t we just be grateful for the ability to hear?

Aviation is an important part of our world, and an active airport benefits us ?loud sounds and all. The most annoying clatter comes from people complaining about it. Scottsdale residents might serve the entire community better by finding satisfaction in life, practicing gratitude, and terminating the airplane complaints.


Gina Lauchner is a writer for Columbia Southwest, a luxury airplane dealership serving all of Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. She can be reached at [email protected].

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