Mesa has slashed the number of noise complaints levied against Falcon Field after urging pilots to change how and where they fly.
Complaints have dropped to their lowest level in more than two years, and aviation officials continue working to reduce noise at the nation’s fourth busiest general aviation airport.
Falcon Field is holding an open house tonight to share plans, including improvements to a runway that it’s encouraging pilots to use.
Noise complaints began declining late last year, from 30 or more per month to as few as none in June.
“We did see an uptick in February of this year, then it’s just consistently been dropping to a pretty low level,” airport director Corinne Nystrom said.
Falcon Field typically generated two or three complaints per month in 2007, and remained low even after the February 2007 arrival of the CAE/Sabena Flight Training Center, the world’s largest flight school for foreign pilots.
But by late 2008, complaints surged, often to three dozen or more a month. Residents later formed a group called Keeping Falcon Field Safe, submitting a 30-page petition that targeted the flight school. Mayor Scott Smith assembled a task force to reduce noise in early 2009.
One of the biggest things that reduced complaints was asking the flight school to halt training at night. Also, the airport asked pilots to use the north runway, which is farther from surrounding neighborhoods, and to take off to the north.
But Nystrom said the airport can’t force pilots to do any of those things. The Federal Aviation Administration controls the airspace, and pilots need to fly into the wind if it’s blowing at more than 5 knots per hour.
“Mother nature pretty much dictates what direction they can go,” Nystrom said.
But when winds are calm, pilots are encouraged to head north. Recently, about 60 percent of planes have been taking off to the north, she said.
The city will work to make the north runway more attractive to pilots this fall by paving along the runway’s side. While the runway already meets FAA requirements, the additional pavement would reduce the chance of serious damage to a plane if it were to veer off the runway, Nystrom said.
The airport has worked extensively with pilots and the flight school to encourage them to fly at higher altitudes around the airport and to consider the impact of noise on neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Dina Higgins, who moved near the airport 18 years ago, said she was swamped with e-mails when noise complaints spiked. The effort has worked, she said, because she hardly gets any since the airport encouraged pilots to change their habits. She acknowledges the airport still needs to address helicopters, but said the larger problem is improving.
“That doesn’t happen overnight, she said. “It takes a while to work through.”
If you go:
What: Open house at Mesa’s Falcon Field Airport
When: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field, 2017 N. Greenfield Road
Details: Mesa aviation officials will discuss their efforts to reduce noise, with short presentations at 6:10 p.m., 6:35 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Federal Aviation Administration will have representatives there to discuss air traffic control, Falcon’s airspace and flight safety.