Over 1000 people have endorsed a petition to fix rather than move noise problems that accompanied the FAA's deployment of NEXTGEN in Santa Cruz County.
Some commonly asked questions regarding this issue:
1. There is controversy regarding changes to FAA flight paths over Santa Cruz County. Different groups are promoting different solutions: what are the issues?
In March 2015 the FAA changed flight patterns over the county as part of its implementation of NEXTGEN, a national upgrade of aviation practices.
In Santa Cruz, three changes accompanied NEXTGEN : (1) planes now largely follow the SERFR ground track which flies East of the previous ground track, BigSur/BSR; (2) planes fly lower, with a different descent profile; (3) though the number of flights did not change much, the concentration of flights increased and parts of the county saw a jump in the number of overhead airplanes.
In response, community groups formed throughout Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Not all groups advocate the same solutions to these problems. The Save Our Skies Santa Cruz / Quiet Skies NorCal group primarily advocate moving the ground track away from their neighborhoods in Happy Valley, Soquel, Los Gatos, and Saratoga, to the previously-used BSR route over Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley. A regional coalition of twelve other advocacy groups, which includes Quiet Skies Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley Advocacy groups, advocates working with the FAA to fix the underlying noise, descent and concentration problems without simply shifting noise to other communities.
2. Why do most groups oppose moving the ground track?
Moving the ground track only changes who is affected. It does nothing to fix actual noise problems.
The FAA is now engaged in trying to address NEXTGEN-related issues that affect Santa Cruz County and the southern part of the Bay Area metroplex. Getting their attention is not easy. It happened thanks to the intervention of US Congressional Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, and Sam Farr. If this opportunity is wasted on changes that don't fix the actual problems, such as increased flight concentration, flight elevation and descent profiles, then jet noise problems will likely continue to affect Santa Cruz County residents for a long time.
If the flight track is moved over more densely populated neighborhoods, the change will actually make things worse. Protests and pressure on elected representatives will accelerate.
3. Which of SERFR or BIGSUR BSR affects more county residents?
Current Census Bureau population data clearly shows that BSR flies over more densely populated neighborhoods than SERFR. The best way to understand this is to look at a map of the two ground tracks overlaid on a population density map. An example is shown here.
Though both tracks traverse heavily-populated areas near the coast, SERFR continues over less populated areas including Happy Valley and parts of Scotts Valley East of Granite Creek Rd. The BSR track, after crossing land over Santa Cruz, parallels Graham Hill Rd and overflies more populated neighborhoods including Paradise Park, Ocean Street Extension, Pasatiempo, Woods Cove, Mount Hermon, Felton, and Ben Lomond.
4. What is "vectoring" and why does it matter?
About half of SFO-bound flights over Santa Cruz do not directly follow the ground track. Instead, in the course of their descent, they are directed to fly an alternate route. This is done primarily to decrease congestion. FAA data show that about half of flights are vectored and that proportion remained unchanged with the introduction of NEXTGEN.
Vectoring impacts residents because it disperses flight traffic. In Santa Cruz County, vectored flights invariably travel to West of the ground track. Thus neighborhoods West of the ground track receive about half of total traffic. The dispersion of flight traffic can be better understood when the FAA data is visualized. These heatmaps show total traffic for all flights in July 2014 and July 2015.
Moving the ground track East disperses vectored traffic over a broader area of the county, moving it West concentrates traffic.
5. The old BIGSUR BSR ground path caused fewer complaints. Why won't simply moving the ground track back fix the problems?
FAA data shows that the total number of flights over the county did not change significantly with NEXTGEN. Census Bureau data shows that those flights overflew more residents than today. However, pre-NEXTGEN complaints were far lower. Anecdotally, several long-time county residents who have lived under both ground tracks, testified to the Select Committee that they are much more bothered by the current situation. (Additionally San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Clara County residents attest to past noise problems and complaints under the old BSR, but did not organize or have the benefit of an app with which to make repeated and automated complaints to SFO.)
These facts suggest that post-NEXTGEN complaints are caused by increases in flight concentration and in noise due to lower elevation and louder descent. If the ground track is moved, these problems will simply affect different people and more of them. An actual fix involves changes to flight concentration and descent profile.