Palo Alto community hopes to reroute local aircraft traffic

Residents and local politicians seek to divert airplane flight paths around the city

Increased flight traffic over the city of Palo Alto has citizens and politicians fighting for a change in airplane flight paths coming from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Since 2006, planes departing from and arriving to SFO, over Palo Alto, have increased by 185 percent. This increase in flight traffic over the city is also caused by a recent surge in additional flights after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rolled out its new NextGen flight system. The NextGen flight system requires aircrafts to travel over much more specific, narrow paths in order to free up airspace for military and commercial drones.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve rushed from the garden,” Amy Christel, a Palo Alto resident, said in an interview with the Palo Alto Weekly. “The planes are flying so low I can read the number on the tail. My perception was, ‘Oh my God, we bought a house under an air-traffic path.”’

This concern over airplane noise is shared by many Palo Alto residents and has inspired members of the community, including Paly librarian Rachel Kellerman, to create a political action committee by the name of Sky Posse Palo Alto. With the ongoing support from the Palo Alto City Council, the Representative for California’s 18th congressional district,  Anna Eshoo, Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Sky Posse Palo Alto hopes to convince SFO to divert flight paths to less populated areas.

Rachel Kellerman personally monitors airplane noise in her own home.

“The sound measured 65 decibels, that is approximately the sound of a vacuum cleaner going off over one’s head,” Kellerman said. “In one half hour last night between 5:30 and 6 p.m., 10 such flights roared overhead.”

“It’s great to finally be gathering some data to back up the complaints being lodged at SFO,” Kellerman said.

Recent action has been taken by Eshoo, who sent an airplane-noise survey to the FAA. This survey has been filled out by hundreds of constituents since its initial release in January, and Eshoo hopes to gain more momentum through more  survey responses.

With SFO receiving complaints and concrete evidence to support the claim that airplane noise is a problem for Palo Alto residents, an intervention in flight paths seems likely. According to Bert Ganoung, head of Noise Abatment at SFO, they recieved 45,000 complaint in July.

“I raised the concerns of the many constituents I’ve met with in my Palo Alto office with the administrator, and he agreed to reexamine flight altitudes passing over our region,” Eshoo said in a letter to her constituents. “He also agreed to have the FAA regional administrator hold a meeting with select community representatives in the near future. If we can bring the testimony of the people of the 18th Congressional District affected by this problem to the FAA, it will help demonstrate how urgent it is for the agency to address them.”

Eshoo and Sky Posse Palo Alto suggest contacting the Noise Abatement Office of SFO at 650-821-4736 or by email at [email protected] to encourage flight path reform.