The Problem Of Noise

FAA's NextGen air traffic control system
Video explaining increased air traffic over Los Altos and Los Altos Hills due to FAA's NextGen. 

Many residents of Los Altos Hills moved here because of our town's open spaces, natural beauty, and peacefulness. In fact, preservation of these characteristics was what drove the town's founders to incorporate. Because of their foresight, Los Altos Hills managed to retain its tranquility despite increasing development throughout the Bay Area in the intervening 60 years. But our quality of life is now being disrupted by more than 200 noisy aircraft overflights per day, dramatically more than a year ago. We are concerned for three reasons.
  1. Quality of Life - We are concerned because the aircraft are reducing our quality of life. We can no longer enjoy time outdoors due to the much larger number of noisier aircraft in our skies. We chose to live in Los Altos Hills so that we could enjoy the quiet, beyond the hustle and bustle of urban areas.

  2. Health Effects - We are concerned about health effects, especially for our children. Recent research in the US and Europe has documented serious and lasting health deterioration due to aircraft noise. Loud aircraft, whether or not they awake you while sleeping, have a deleterious impact on human health, akin to chronic, low-intensity PTSD.  Read "Aircraft Noise and Public Health: The Evidence is Loud and Clear", published by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

    Evidence indicates that the body’s response to a noise event at night, even when the individual continues to sleep, may lead to increased risk of higher blood pressure and long-term heart disease.  Read about "Aircraft noise linked with heart problems", a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the British Medical Journal on October 8, 2013 .

    There is robust evidence from over 20 studies to demonstrate that aircraft noise exposure has impacts on children’s reading comprehension or memory skills.  Read "Does noise affect learning? A short review on noise effects on cognitive performance in children", published by the National Institutes of Health in August 2013.

  3. Property Values - We are concerned about our property values. We paid a premium for our homes because they afforded a quiet environment. The FAA, without any due process (e.g. eminent domain action) is reducing the value of our property.  Read "The Impact of Airport Noise on Residential Real Estate", published in The Appraisal Journal of July 2001.

    Research shows that a sizable portion of the population will not buy or rent in a flight path. Even home buyers not bothered by the noise themselves will be leery of purchases that might lose value later. The decline in high end markets due to the advent of noise ranges from 3.3% to 22.5%. On a typical $2M home that would be a $66,000 to $450,000 loss.

The Role of the Federal Aviation Administration

The FAA is in the midst of a nationwide rollout of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), a project which has been plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays. In the Bay Area, the NextGen rollout started in March 2015. The FAA bills NextGen as quiet and efficient, but the truth for those on the ground is very different.

The FAA built a "highway in the sky" (this is the FAA's choice of words) over our homes, literally overnight March 4, 2015, without informing affected residents or giving us an appropriate opportunity to object. They also did so without conducting a full environment impact report--by declaring a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Bay Area rollout of NextGen.

The FAA's assessment of "no significant impact" from these changes is directly contradicted by the exponential increase in noise complaints received by the SFO Noise Abatement Office (over 113,000 complaints in the first 3 weeks of January alone, compared to about 14,000 complaints in all of 2014; SFO has received so many noise complaints in 2015 that they are months behind in providing updated noise complaint counts; at last count, 150,000 for the first 8 months of 2015).

Furthermore, the current FAA noise metrics do not account for the significant increase in frequency that occurs under the new NextGen corridors.  The FAA is quick to tout the benefits that NextGen yields in reduced fuel consumption and increased capacity--but these changes benefit airlines and airport operators and come at the expense of those of us on the ground.

The FAA's flawed NextGen implementation is also well-documented, and is a growing problem nationwide--Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Phoenix, San Diego, and Chicago are all suffering from dramatically increased noise due to NextGen.

Learn How the FAA (and EPA) Measure Noise

Our friends from SkyPosse Palo Alto prepared a good primer on the FAA's noise metrics, if you'd like to learn more about why the FAA's standard for noise is outdated.