A long-term plan for Falcon Field. Rezoning to protect the airport. A push for overall growth.
Officials at the east Mesa airport are in fifth gear with these plans and more, but area residents say no one’s taking their complaints about a sharp increase in noise seriously.
“I’m not against the airport; I just want to preserve some quiet,” said Walt Winder, a 14-year resident of the nearbyApache Wells community. Winder was one of several residents who attended a workshop Tuesday where the city shared its proposed master plan update — a 20-year projection of the airport’s development and growth issues.
For Craig Wrigley, who also lives near the airport, preserving quiet would be putting it mildly.
“We’re getting hammered day and night,” Wrigley said.
Both Wrigley and his wife, Denise, said they’ve filed complaints with the city, but nothing was ever done.
The couple, who moved into their house near McKellips Road and Val Vista Drive eight years ago, said at first the occasional aircraft noise was tolerable. But since last year, the drone of planes taking off and landing has put a near end to routine things such as using their backyard or enjoying the pool with their five children.
“We can’t even hear our voices when we use our cell phones in our backyard,” Denise Wrigley said.
Winder also said the noise level has risen considerably ever since new flight training schools moved into the airport. Sabena Airline Training Center and Regional Airline Academy, among others, recently began operations there.
As of April 28, the airport has received 15 noise complaints, according to airport projects supervisor Jeff Tripp. Last year, the figure stood at 68, up from 22 in 2006.
The airport’s also gotten busier. At 314,129 takeoffs and landings, the airport was ranked as the nation’s fourth-busiest general aviation airport in 2007. That’s up by more than 65,000 takeoffs and landings since 2006, according to Federal Aviation Administration numbers. General aviation airports provide services for air charters, flight schools and privately owned aircraft.
Tripp said noise is always an issue for residents living near airports.
“With growth, that’s likely to increase, but as older, noisier jets are retired, newer, quieter ones are also likely to lessen the noise impact,” he said, adding the airport follows voluntary noise abatement policies.
Falcon Field Airport director Corinne Nystrom said the airport master plan is a tool to look at infrastructure and safety improvements and address issues of increased airport operations.
According to the proposed master plan projections, in 20 years 24 homes in the Apache Wells community east of the airport are expected to fall within noise exposure levels higher than the recommended level. Currently, eight homes are affected by that measure.
But David Wayne, a retired American Airlines pilot and area resident, said that does not reflect the actual effect of noise on other homes. The FAA noise contour levels, he said, represent a 24-hour average, which tend to skew the actual noise situations.
Airport officials, meanwhile, expect the master plan update, the first since 1992, to go before the City Council in June or July. One major proposed taxiway project near Roadrunner and Eagle drives would help airport development, Nystrom said.
As of March 2007, 892 aircraft were based at the airport, with the figure expected to go up to 1,150 by 2012 and to 1,500 by 2027.
Next week the council also will take a look at a proposal to rezone a city-owned 88-acre parcel west of Falcon Field to an open space designation, creating an additional safety buffer.
Nystrom also hopes the council will approve rezoning of another 63 acres to a business park, so the city could lease the land to commercial developers. The parcel is currently zoned for light industrial development. Under FAA rules, the city cannot sell the property, but leasing is an option.
The city had purchased the property in 1978 to protect the airport from future development. The FAA had earlier agreed that it could be used for nonaviation purposes. But the city had to retain ownership and any revenue generated had go to airport uses.
“By developing the northern portion of the property, it would be more compatible with the neighborhood to the west and will stimulate business,” Nystrom said.
Residents attending the meeting largely favored the rezoning, but reiterated that the airport is falling short in looking at their noise concerns.
“I know I signed on to live near an airport, but this isn’t a local airport anymore; it’s turning into a large industrial type facility,” Wayne said. “It exceeds what we would consider an acceptable level of noise.”