Fledgling airline Surf Air's marketing slogan is "Disruptive Innovation -- A Revolutionary Approach to Air Travel." Some residents in Menlo Park, Redwood City and Atherton say it sums up their experience with the commuter airline's turbo-propeller planes.
Surf Air started flying out of San Carlos Airport in June 2013. The start-up airline offers members unlimited flights for a monthly fee between regional airports, including Burbank, Hawthorne, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas and Truckee. It currently has as many as 24 flights to and from San Carlos, with the earliest departing at 7:05 a.m. on weekdays and the last arriving at 8:55 p.m. On weekends, the first flight leaves at 8 a.m. on Saturday and the last lands at 10 p.m. on Sunday, according to the company's website. The airline plans to add Oakland and Carlsbad to its service in November and December.
But its concierge service has upset Midpeninsula residents, who say its Pilatus aircraft is exceedingly noisy. CalmTheSkies, a group based in Atherton, has been trying to get the company to change its flight paths or to have the planes fly higher. A Sept. 30 meeting at Holbrook-Palmer Park brought together people from Palo Alto to Redwood City to voice their concerns to Surf Air executives.
"A critical takeaway is that this isn't an Atherton problem. It is a problem that affects many communities," Atherton resident David Fleck, an organizer, said.
Residents said the plane's sound frequency has been like nothing they have experienced before.
"I call it the blue-bellied beast," said Sheri Shenk, who said the planes shake her home. Her visiting grandchildren ran for cover during a recent visit.
"I gauge it by the height of my redwood tree. It's often lower than 1,500 feet," she said.
Surf Air CEO Jeff Potter, a former Frontier Airlines CEO who took over in February, said the airline wants to work with the community. Surf is testing a new, quintuple-bladed propeller that might be quieter than the four-bladed type in current use, he said. The airline would like to fly out of Moffett Field, which could eliminate some of the noisy traffic currently burdening south San Mateo County cities, but so far the company hasn't gotten approval, he said.
Pilots at the Sept. 30 meeting said that Surf Air pilots need training on best practices to descend more quietly in the Pilatus aircraft.
CalmTheSkies is also working to try to get the Federal Aviation Administration to increase the altitudes on flight paths or spread the flight approaches over U.S. Highway 101.
Some residents say they have already done enough talking, and they are considering legal options.
"That's very indicative about how upset people are becoming in our community," Fleck said.
San Mateo County has continued to accept federal money from the FAA. Some residents say it is time to stop.
"In doing so, they're giving away the ability of the county to have leverage to manage ground operations better. We can no longer demand to manage curfews or the number of flights," Fleck said.
The residents also want better noise monitoring. The studies are dated to before the class of aircraft such as Pilatus existed, he said.
Noise studies are also generally done nearest to airports.
"They don't extend back to the community," he said.
Residents said they are closely evaluating candidates running in this November's election for their responsiveness on the issue.
"It's the county's responsibility. They own it -- it's their airport. ... We're really questioning where our seats of government are on these issues. They are missing in action, and we need them front and center," Fleck said.