Mental Health and Aircraft Noise: Frankly, Who Gives a Damn?

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Here’s a screen-cap of a tweet, linked to a thoughtful article about how aviation noise undermines mental health…

(click on image to view article at HACA,org.uk, or click here for a PDF copy)

(click on image to view article at HACAN,org.uk, or click here for a PDF copy), or click here for the original tweet.

UPDATE – Longmont, Colorado (Citizens For Quiet Skies)

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UPDATE: Longmont, Colorado

Click here to view the latest Post by Citizens For Quiet Skies, with four topics. The first two are time-critical: a City Council decision on March 15th, with an opportunity for citizen input.

  1. Mile-Hi Lease Second Reading and Final Council Vote on March 15
  2. Talking Points – Urge council to adopt noise regulations
  3. The Appeal
  4. FAA Reauthorization

UPDATE, Longmont, CO: Second Reading and Final Council Vote on Mile-Hi Skydiving Lease, set for March 15

(click on image to view CFQS web notice)

(click on image to view CFQS web notice)

Skydiving noise is a substantial impact, due primarily to the fact that operators are allowed to use very noisy equipment and fly repetitive patterns that drone on for 10-20 minutes each flight. If you have ever heard a skydive plane, you will know what I mean; you will hear a loud airplane and look and look, then see a tiny speck far above the surface … and far louder than your average airplane. Operators could install quieter props, use quieter engine/prop settings, and reduce their rate of climb – all reasonable practices to minimize noise impacts – but FAA effectively shields skydive operators from evolving their practices, by federalizing the rules and thus obstructing local efforts to ‘manage’ the impacts.

The history of the ongoing skydiving noise impacts around Longmont are aptly summarized in Norma Figgs’ statement, offered as citizen testimony on 2/23/2016:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

And, here is a copy of Karen Antonacci’s article at the local newspaper:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Importantly, lease approval requires two readings. This helps to ensure that City Council members, who serve part-time as elected citizens, have a chance to more closely investigate the issues before they finalize a decision. The first Mile Hi Skydiving lease, approved years ago, in 2007, proved to be filled with serious problems. So, we are on the verge of replacing that flawed lease, and have a chance to get it right this time around.

For a deeper analysis of why the current lease needs to be terminated and a better new lease needs to be negotiated, and to see aiREFORM’s suggestion for what the Longmont City Council needs to do, please see page two.


See also:

Longmont City Council Needs to Improve Terms in the Mile-Hi Lease

QUOTE

“…After a full week of blissfully quiet days and beautiful weather, the tranquility in our neighborhood was destroyed just a few minutes ago. As I write this, the Mile-Hi jump plane is droning and grinding its way to jump altitude. For me, the quiet days serve as an important reminder how things ought to be. So, I hope you will all join us next Tuesday, when the Longmont city council addresses the proposed Mile-Hi lease.”

– Kimberly Gibbs, Chairman and Founder of the group ‘Citizens For Quiet Skies‘, in Boulder County, Colorado.

The airport in Longmont, Colorado [KLMO] is a moderately busy field with a single runway and no control tower. The largest operator, by far, is Mile Hi Skydiving, which uses a small fleet of aircraft to make a lot of money flying people on long and noisy climbs for ‘drops’ that land on the south side of the airport.

The noise impact on neighborhoods is intense – so intense that it actually led to a case heard at the U.S. District Court in Boulder. Last Spring, the court sided with the operator. Sadly, though, this outcome was not that surprising, when you just consider political trends in recent decades. It is impossible to not notice the predisposition of U.S. courts (and agencies, and elected officials) to serve money ahead of people, the environment, or justice.

(4 screen caps from the Mile Hi Skydiving website, showing prices and offering info about tandem jumps)

(4 screen caps from the Mile Hi Skydiving website, showing the $199 price, describing tandem jumps, and noting over 5,000 tandem jumps are done each year.)

The big money-maker in the skydiving business is ‘tandem jumps’, where total beginners are strapped onto a so-called ‘instructor’ and the pair then skydives together under the instructor’s parachute. Actual trained skydivers pay approximately $20 for a flight to drop altitude, but tandem passengers pay $199. The so-called ‘instructors’ are not paid anything huge; in fact, the biggest benefit for the ‘instructor’ is that he or she logs more skydives, toward extended ratings. Clearly, the profits for Mile Hi Skydiving are substantial – easily more than $100 per tandem customer.

And that customer’s status as a student? For nearly all tandem customers it is a ‘one-and-done’: a 6-minute ride after somebody else jumps from the plane, a ride that creates a one-time adrenaline rush. Very few of these riders will invest hundreds more and all the time for a series of actual instruction and jumps to become actual skydivers. They are students in name only, and only for about one hour (plus maybe a couple more hours just waiting in line to get on their flight).

The Current Lease Proposal

KLMO.20151230.. Exh.A showing aerial of lease boundary

(Exhibit A; from page 17 of the 18-page Final Draft lease proposal)

The current lease proposal calls for having Mile Hi pay less than $400 per month to lease nearly 13,000 square feet of improved airport land, including a hangar that is nearly 4,000 square feet in area. That appears to be an incredibly low lease rate for an outfit that dominates the airport (and thus impacts other airport operations), while it also destroys quality of life for hundreds – even thousands – of airport neighbors who can no longer enjoy barbecues in their backyards.

With each flight, this company nets enough profit to more than cover the monthly lease cost. So, why is the lease rate so low? Is the airport authority even covering the annualized cost of the improvements being leased away (the hangar and the ramp apron)?

The lease also includes no provision for the additional airport land area being used to support Mile Hi’s business, such as:

  • the airport movement areas where pavement has been modified solely to accommodate Mile Hi’s operations (the large asphalt area at top-center of Exhibit A);
  • the land where shade structures are added for processing customers and handling equipment (the two black rectangles, just south of the pavement);
  • the other areas routinely used for handling customers (look closely at the aerial view, and note the business-related improvements on land outside the lease area … the orange markings, the smaller white structures);
  • the ‘swoop pond’ area; and
  • the land where dozens – even hundreds – of customers and employees park their vehicles, as necessary to conduct business.

One has to wonder: on the open market, for a comparable parcel and improvements to be used by a lessee’s customers at a non-aviation business, what would the lease rate be? Only $400 per month?

There is also nothing in the lease to protect neighborhoods and the environment from the repetitive and loud noise patterns known to exist with skydiving operations. FAA serves aviation money, so local residents will get no help from the federal officials. Instead, residents must depend on their city officials to be diligent in handling airport use proposals, to manage leases so as to minimize impacts. The proposal being considered is a total ‘giveaway’, and was previously approved by an aviation-biased airport Board. The proposal fails to serve the whole public. City Council needs to send it back, to reflect the full property being leased, and to add provisions that balance skydiving profits with the quality-of-life needs of area residents.

Click here to view the agenda for the 2/23/2016 council session (Civic Center, at 7:00PM). The lease ordinance is at Item #8a. Citizens are invited to speak before and after.


See also:

Do Your Job FAA: Take Action to Mitigate Skydiving Noise near Longmont

Here is a recent comment by a resident of Longmont, CO, who signed the petition at Change.org, urging Congress to adopt regulations that reduce aviation noise. This long-time rural resident of a beautiful part of the country describes very well the skydiving noise problem that FAA refuses to manage…

“I have endured the abuse from the excessive noise of Mile Hi Skydiving’s aircraft over my home, the surrounding community, and Boulder County open space for many years as it has gotten steadily worse. There is no reasonable escape from the skydiving aircraft noise which is unlike any other aircraft or cultural noise in that it is persistent, loud, and primarily monotonic droning which makes it much worse than other cultural noise sources and other transient aircraft noise, even if they are as loud.

I live in a rural part of Boulder County that is over 4 miles from the airport, but the skydiving aircraft continuously circle from early morning to sunset both low and high over my home for much of the year. My and others’ quality of life have been severely negatively impacted by the steadily increasing abuse from Mile Hi Skydiving’s noisy aircraft and the time is long past for the FAA, local governments, airport management, and Mile Hi Skydiving to mitigate this problem. To date, none has been willing to do so.

We are not just a bunch of complainers; this noise has a real tangible negative impact on my life at home and degrades the enjoyment of living in this beautiful area. It is just not right or fair that one business and the recreational activities of a small minority should be allowed to negatively impact my community and life in this way.

I urge you to consider and implement reasonable and appropriate measures that will mitigate this noise problem to create a better community for all of us.”

What’s going on here?

Exactly the same situation as we see in the NextGen impacted airports: a tone-deaf FAA, aiding aviation operators to expand their profit-margins while imposing greater noise burdens on thousands of airport neighbors. And, in many cases, impacting thousands of others who actually live far from the airport but happen to be subjected to low arrival flows, skydiving climb patterns, and new routes poorly designed by FAA. Same situation, too, as we see in Santa Monica and East Hampton, where FAA delays … and delays … and delays … all the while sustaining an aviation status quo that is indisputably destructive to quality of life and public health. An out-of-control agency so indifferent to public welfare and so removed from public service that the Mayor and Council members of Santa Monica have created an online petition with this pointed title: #FAADoYourJob.

What are some ‘reasonable and appropriate measures’ that could be taken in Longmont?

A big part of the impact around Longmont is due to the intentional routine of flying away from the airport to conduct long and noisy climbs. This is a dangerous practice. If FAA wanted to, they could mitigate the noise problems AND improve aviation safety by directing Mile Hi Skydiving to conduct all climbs and descents within a 2-mile radius of the drop zone (the point in space over the area where the skydivers are supposed to land). This way, the many pilots overflying the area would know where to look, and other small planes would have a much higher chance of spotting the skydive planes.

How to Restore Local Control for Skydiving Noise Impacts

Here is a 2-page PDF that outlines the rules needed, to ensure local officials are fully empowered to balance the profit-seeking needs of skydiving operators against the ‘peace-and-quiet’ quality of life needs of airport neighbors. You can download a copy, print it, and take it with you when you go to the local airport commission, city council, or other public meetings. You can also push your leaders to demand that FAA and Congress create new rules that ensure local authorities are allowed to manage noise impacts without being blocked by distant and ineffective FAA authority.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

We Need Congress to Fix FAA’s Problems…

…and here is one recent success connecting with a Congressman.

In this example, the citizen started by contacting  his member of the House of Representatives (use this link to locate yours, using only your zip code). An email address was then located, and a pair of emails was sent with the following points:

  1. Millions of American citizens live in residential areas where they’ve purposefully bought homes away from noise so they can relax in peace and quiet after a day of work; especially on weekends when it’s time to enjoy family and friends outdoors and rest up for the week ahead.  When we buy a home in a peaceful neighborhood, we have the right to expect that the peace and quiet we bought with our property will remain with us unless we give our consent or participate in a formal decision-making process to allow a noisy activity to impact us at a later date.  The way the FAA rules stand today, there is effectively nothing to stop any new aviation activity from starting-up, or an existing aviation activity from expanding as much as it wants without restraint based out of a GA airport located in a residential area.  These noisy activities take something very valuable away from a large number of surrounding residents without their consent, to benefit the commercial interests of a few who often don’t even live in the surrounding area.  These aviation activities like sight-seeing flights, aerobatics, banner tows, intensive flight training, skydiving operations, etc. add significant noise to the residential environment to the detriment of the quality of life, health and property values of surrounding residents.  The FAA has a history of blocking actions taken by residents and local authorities to control such noise-making activities at GA airports which start-up, or begin to grow after residents buy their homes in otherwise peaceful areas.  The situation today is effectively out of control, damages the quality of life for millions of residents without any realistic recourse, and risks the future quality of life of millions more, unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  2. The block the FAA maintains on the ability of citizens and local authorities to control the growth of noise-making aviation activities based out of GA airports has been so effective that local courts and law enforcement have given up, and so have large numbers of residents.  Understanding and navigating the FAA’s fuzzy rules has to date been a waste of time, and local authorities now routinely defer outright to the noise-makers, making it essentially pointless for residents to waste their time complaining.  This damages the quality of life of millions of citizens, and risks the quality of life for millions more in the future by fostering a state of virtual lawlessness with respect to the noise-making activities of such aviation business, unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  3. The regulatory and enforcement framework for addressing community noise impacts from aviation activities based out of GA airports is completely out of step with other quality of life standards.  For example, the EPA has stated that outdoor noise levels of more than 55 dbA interfere with activity and cause annoyance.  But the FAA noise standard for aircraft from GA airports allows the 55 dbA noise level to be exceeded repeatedly over long periods of time above our homes in residential areas.  As a further example, many residential areas have ordinances that require the explicit consent of neighbors before building or re-painting a structure (or even erecting solar panels that benefit the whole community) on the owner’s property, lest the neighbors find it an eyesore.  These structures and paint colors make no noise at all and their impact can be avoided by simply averting one’s eyes.  Yet the FAA allows recreational aircraft from GA airports to routinely overfly distant neighborhoods and produce repeated noise impacts without the consent of residents and which cannot be avoided by residents as the noise comes from above and can’t be escaped – and all this for the benefit of non-essential, profit-making recreational aviation activities.  The FAA’s disregard for this important quality of life parameter will remain unchecked unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  4. Although NextGen implementation is creating many high-profile noise impacts, the Quiet Skies Caucus also needs to address impacts created at General Aviation airports. For example, residents in Longmont, CO, Molalla, OR, Cloverdale, CA, Chatham, MA, Tecumseh, MI, Lancaster, OH, Oak Harbor, WA, and probably many others, are repeatedly faced with quality of life impacts from aviation operations associated with skydiving and other recreational businesses. Under current practice, these businesses are allowed to operate with little or no effective federal oversight or local control of their noise impacts on surrounding residents, many of whom live several miles distant from the GA airport.
  5. Records show that at one airport impacted by just one aggressive skydiving operator, 60% of all weekend flights during the year 2014 were for skydiving.  This massive amount of slow-moving, low-altitude, excessively noisy air traffic consisted of 55 or more skydiving flights a day on all spring, summer and fall weekends. Each flight would climb slowly, passing multiple times over residential neighborhood six or more miles away from the airport, and producing 70 or more noise incidents in those neighborhoods on each weekend day (and many of the events peaked at over 70 dbA). Many residents would hear the same skydive aircraft for ten or more minutes during each climb. Entire weekends were destroyed.
  6. Furthermore, noise-making businesses like Skydiving have undertaken deliberate strategies to befuddle and spread misinformation in order to dodge accountability.  They export their noise to locations beyond the hearing-range of local airport neighbors, by consistently doing their noisy climbs at 3-10 miles away from the actual airport. The impacted residents are often unaware that the noise is related to skydiving. Thus, the local authorities receive fewer complaints. And, the near-airport residents, being less impacted, are less inclined to vote out the elected officials who are failing to manage the airport noise problem.
  7. And then there is the problem of FAA’s flawed noise metrics. Current FAA regulations measure noise exposure using a summation called the Day-Night Level metric (DNL).  Mitigation or abatement procedures are only implemented if the DNL is above 65 dbA DNL. This metric is currently applied on a one-size-fits-all basis to national air transportation hubs, as well as to GA airports in residential areas which support primarily recreational activities where we believe a different noise standard more reflective of the real noise impact should be used.

He also signed on to the Petition seeking congressional action to reduce airplane noise. Here’s the writer’s closing comment, in the letter he sent to his congressional rep. He got a positive response, as the Congressman assured that these noise issues were among his top priorities for FAA Reauthorization…

“It’s my hope moving forward that as the FAA bill is reauthorized, we can show through a collaborative and balanced approach, that the impact of these operations on our communities should be taken into account and their mitigation promoted as a part of a shift at the FAA and nationally to be better neighbors and move toward effective noise mitigation strategies applicable to GA airports.”

Updated Remarks, by Petition Signers Nationwide

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

This is an extraordinary collection of comments, well worth studying. Here are some conclusions that are readily apparent:

  • The noise impacts of aviation are EVERYWHERE, and exacerbated by a federal agency (FAA) that is totally indifferent to the impacts … too busy serving their industry with fewer restrictions and regulations. A classic example of fully formed Regulatory Capture.
  • The melting pot that is our nation is beautifully reflected in the comments, especially in the impact areas around Flushing, Queens, and Roslyn, New York. The many comments suggest that even people who have recently come to live in our nation are shocked at what they see is happening to local quality of life.
  • Many people may have become conditioned to not speak up. For example, the largest skydiving noise impact in the nation right now is being caused by Frank Casares’ Mile Hi Skydiving, operating out of the airport in Longmont, Colorado. For a few years now, impacted people have seen the hostile, uncivil, and in some cases frighteningly aggressive comments by skydiving advocates in various online forums. They have become conditioned to stay quiet. Yet, with this petition, dozens have chosen to speak up by adding their valuable comments.
  • Probably the community most intensively impacted by NextGen is Phoenix, due especially to FAA’s giving the airlines early turns in west flows (impacting the Grand Ave and Laveen areas). Thousands of residents are impacted, but their property values are plummeting, and it appears that many have become afraid to attach a name and a concern that might undermine their negotiating position while selling the homes they once loved. This is terrible: that elected officials and federal authorities (like you, Michael Huerta and Glen Martin!) do nothing to mitigate an undisputed impact, letting it persist long enough to force people to move on for their health … and that people in our nation are afraid to speak up! We all owe a lot to those who have posted their comments.

Click on page two to view the roughly 280 comments, sorted by location, and be sure to look at your own community. Also, if you or someone you know is concerned about unmitigated aviation noise, please sign the petition and add your comments! Even better, tell your elected representatives you signed and they need to ‘get to work’. We all need to speak up if this problem is to be remedied.

Remarks by Petitioners Nationwide

People are impacted by aviation noise Everywhere!

Click on page two to view some great remarks from Chicago, Milton, Longmont, Santa Monica, Phoenix, Zephyrhills, and even Tetonia, Idaho! Scroll or text-search the name of your town, to see what others are seeing where you live.

Let’s get more petition signatures (and more great remarks!) to help FAA clean up this mess….

Please Sign This Petition!!

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read the petition at Change.org)

A small group of noise-impacted citizens have worked together to create a petition that is generally aimed at:

  1. restoring local control on airport environmental impacts;
  2. maximizing aviation transparency (so impacted neighbors can use real data to efficiently resolve aviation noise problems); and
  3. stripping FAA of the environmental regulation authorities they have increasingly abused (…in apparent ‘service’ to the airlines and other aviation operators).

This past year has been extraordinary for the extent of news coverage on aviation noise impacts. The highest profile news stories have involved FAA’s botched NextGen implementations at major commercial airports near Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle. But the loss of quality of life caused by excessive aircraft noise also happens near smaller airports, particularly those with operations using repetitive flight patterns and noisier aircraft types, such as:

  • AIR TOURISM: In places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii, the vistas are astounding, but the quality of the experience is destroyed by the loud ‘thump-thump-thump’ of commercial air tour helicopters. The huge profits made by the operators come at a great ‘cost’ to other park visitors. The National Park Service has worked for decades to create meaningful aviation noise regulation, but their efforts are always stymied by FAA and the very operators FAA fails to regulate.
    — When are we going to take FAA out of the business of impeding the regulation of aviation noise in parks?
  • BANNER-TOWS: there have been seven newsworthy banner tow accidents thus far in 2015, with multiple injuries and one fatality.
    — Do we really need noisy airplanes to sell us insurance and beer?
  • CLOSED-PATTERN FLIGHT-INSTRUCTION: The busiest airport in Oregon is not Portland, but Hillsboro, where FAA recently spent tens of millions to add another runway to accommodate flight instruction. A single company makes a huge amount by importing student pilots from around the world, especially China, to train in the local airport traffic patterns. The problem: the training aircraft burn mostly leaded aviation fuel, and they fly low over neighborhoods and schools.
    — If we are importing students from China, shouldn’t FAA ensure they train away from our homes, perhaps at large remote airports?
  • HELICOPTER AIR CHARTERS: Tens of thousands of residents on Long Island endure invasive noise when financially elite passengers take expensive helicopter rides out to the Hamptons. The town of East Hampton has for decades refused to accept FAA money, so they can regain local control. FAA is fighting them every way they can.
    — Shouldn’t FAA allow local officials to serve local taxpaying citizens, by imposing reasonable regulations on local airport activities?
  • JET AIR CHARTERS: Just like at East Hampton, on the West Coast the people in Santa Monica have fought for decades to reclaim control of their local airport. Their public health concerns include air pollution, noise pollution and the lack of needed safety zones to handle more than 14,000 jet operations per year. Homes are literally across a chain-link fence from the airplanes; so close that lawn furniture is blown over when charter jets and bizjets turn to take the runway. Jet fumes (and leaded fumes from the flight-training planes) continue to choke neighbors. The airport simply cannot contain dangerous runway excursions by jets, but still, FAA’s lawyers continue to take administrative and legal actions against the local authorities, blocking their efforts to assert local control.
    — The impacts at Santa Monica are so egregious and so thoroughly documented, it just makes no sense that these good citizens have to keep fighting for clean air and peace. Will Congress finally step in and force FAA to allow reasonable regulations by local officials?
  • NEWS-COPTERS & OTHER LOW-FLYING HELICOPTERS: FAA’s rules effectively mean that there are no reasonable minimum altitudes and helicopters can be flown at any altitude. The result is a growing problem of very noisy and invasive news helicopters, as well as privately owned copters used to commute between the office and residential helipads.
    — Given the high noise levels of helicopters, isn’t it time that FAA set rules that force them to fly higher, further from our homes and schools?
  • SKYDIVING: These airplanes are modified to climb faster (and get as many trips in each hour), making them among the noisiest airplanes in use. These operators also have a habit of ‘offsetting’ their climbs 4- to 8-miles away from the airport, so that impacted residents have no idea that all-day-long airplane drone is related to skydiving.
    — Given the concentrated noise impacts of skydiving, isn’t it time for FAA to adopt meaningful regulations and environmental review, to protect the rights of people to maintain quality of life?

So, PLEASE sign this Petition! And, please also spend a minute and share your personal comment. Let everyone know what is happening where you live…

…which airport impacts your life, and how has FAA
failed to help you and your neighbors?