Surf Air: New flight path will avoid Midpeninsula | News | Palo Alto Online |


Surf Air: New flight path will avoid Midpeninsula

Route could be flown only with good visibility

Surf Air representatives say they have identified an alternative flight path that would put their planes, and the noise of their turboprop engines, over the Bay during much of their approach to the San Carlos Airport whenever they have clear visibility.

If all goes well, they say, the new approach could be in regular operation by the end of May.

Jim Sullivan, Surf Air's senior vice president of operations, showed the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors a map with a route that would take Surf Air planes from Moffett Field over the Bay, past the Dumbarton Bridge and then back to the San Carlos Airport over a cement plant.

The supervisors received an update at their Tuesday, April 26, meeting from the county's public works director, Jim Porter, on what the county is calling the "San Carlos Airport Aircraft Disturbance Study," which the supervisors approved in March.

Surf Air began using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, and complaints about noise from the turboprop planes the airline uses began flooding in soon after.

Sullivan said the airline has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration's Northern California air traffic control branch, known as Norcal TRACON. They are trying to find a way to move the commuter airline's planes away from the neighborhoods where residents say the noise has been making their lives miserable.

"I really do believe this is the meaningful relief that we've all been looking for," Sullivan said on Tuesday before catching a Surf Air plane from the San Carlos Airport back to work at Surf Air's Santa Monica headquarters.

He said he personally flew the Bay approach last week and believes it will work. He plans to have Surf Air's "check pilots," the pilots who train other pilots, fly the approach 25 times, starting immediately, when they fly into San Carlos.

"By having multiple pilots look at it multiple times" any problems can be found and the route modified, he said.

Surf Air will then train all its pilots to use the approach, and Norcal TRACON will inform the control towers in all the local airports, including Palo Alto, Moffett Field, San Jose, San Francisco and San Carlos, about the new approach, Sullivan said.

The route won't provide complete relief to those who live under the current flight path because, Sullivan said, it can only be used under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions. That means that if pilots can't see the airport from the point at which they start the approach, which is near Sunnyvale, the current GPS approach will continue to be used, he said. Rainy or foggy days can limit that visibility.

San Carlos Airport Assistant Airport Manager Chris St. Peter looked at weather records for the last year at the airport and said that in 2015 slightly more than 86 percent of the time aircraft would have been able to arrive the airport using only a visual approach.

Porter said the county has hired three consultants, including an aviation consultant, an aviation noise consultant and a polling firm.

"We're looking at policies and procedures," he said, including surveying what other general aviation airports do.

"We're also potentially looking at landing fees," he said, including software to help with that process. He said the county is also examining incentives for those who follow the airport's voluntary noise abatement rules.

He said a public meeting will be scheduled in the near future to give residents a chance to talk about how they are affected by the airport operations, and local residents will also be surveyed. A set of recommendations are scheduled to come back to the supervisors in June.

"We are working diligently to make that schedule," Porter said.

Atherton City Councilman Mike Lempres asked the county to get residents more involved in the process.

"The residents of Atherton and North Fair Oaks have not yet been consulted in this process," he said. And despite Sullivan's assertion that Surf Air had begun flying most of its planes over U.S. Highway 101 on April 12, Lempres said residents "have not noticed any change."

Other speakers said that since Surf Air is working to solve the problem on its own, the county should halt the study.

"We ask that you postpone further action or expenditure" until the planned changes are put in place, said Carol Ford, of the airport's pilots' association.

But supervisors said they want the study to continue as scheduled.

"We need to hear from the public," Supervisor Adrienne Tissier saod. "Are they not hearing the noise anymore? Are the changes "really working for them?"

"This isn't to punish the pilots or the people at the airport," she added.

Supervisor Dave Pine agreed, saying, "It's important we keep this study going."

Pine, too, emphasized that the study is not aimed at the majority of the airport's users.

"The impetus of this has been commercial aircraft, primarily Surf Air," he said.

After the meeting Lempres praised the county and others who have become involved in working to resolve noise issues, especially congressional representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier.

However, he said, "it's hard for me to judge whether anything is being done or not. They continue to have a process that does not involve the residents. Hopefully we're going to be part of the process going forward."

North Fair Oaks resident and attorney Adam Ullman, who has been researching the issue for years, said he is happy "to finally see the county supervisors taking proactive steps to fulfill their legal obligations to mitigate the continuous and pervasive noise nuisance from aircraft over our community."

"Airplanes louder than 757s, 777s and 787s should never have been allowed to be as low as a thousand feet over our homes and schools," he said.

Sullivan said he believes the new Bay approach "really captures all the concerns of the community and leaders of the community, and the airport."

"We are excited that the group has finally come together and rolled up their sleeves and said how do we fix this," he said.

Note: San Carlos Airport Manager Gretchen Kelly is analyzing a year of weather data for the airport to provide an accurate analysis of how much of the time the airport operated under visual flight rules. This story will be updated as soon as that information is available.

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6 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Now if we can just get rid of the helicopter training school at the PA air port maybe I can carry on a normal conversation with my wife on our walks at the Baylands...

31 people like this
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Interesting how residents can ask the FAA to change an air-routes for three years, and nothing happens until the airline asks the FAA to change the route, then by some magical process that happens behind closed doors, the route gets changed.

Then the FAA and the airline try to tell the residents "move along folks, nothing to see here".

Atherton City Councilman Mike Lempres demonstrates a clear understanding of the danger of the FAA's opaque process when he laments: "They continue to have a process that does not involve the residents"

11 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2016 at 8:46 pm

I think we ended up with the helicopter school as a default while they were preparing the San Jose airport west side for the increased use of private flyers and the Super Bowl. The west side of the airport is complete and the commercial efforts should be centralized at that location. They have the proper demographics for that type activity. It makes no sense to have a helicopter school in the bay lands which is a conservation area. That whole scheme needs to be rethought now - there is a place for that type activity.
Time for the Sierra Club, et all to get involved.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 28, 2016 at 4:32 am

A number of comments above are troubling. This whole scenario appears very convoluted in the process of resolving the problem and implies that the pilots have been trained to fly a specific route as opposed to taking direction from a control tower - I read that as inexperienced pilots despite that they are making this trip continuously throughout the day.
I am glad that there is a resolution but there is also a lack of judgement that has been on going here on everyone's part. At least there is some judgement being applied to the problem.

9 people like this
Posted by Mimi
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 28, 2016 at 7:53 am

I live three houses off 101. Why do the supervisor in San Mateo think we should also have to listen to noisy planes. Planes to SFO already fly over. There are houses here. Atherton got what they wanted, just push the flight path over other people.

7 people like this
Posted by Other Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2016 at 10:43 am

Will the Surf Air planes really fly above Bay water when allowed, or will they just more or less follow 101, as I have already seen happen? In the latter case, we in Palo Alto will just get more SQL noise.

7 people like this
Posted by EPA Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2016 at 11:38 am

I live in EPA and have noticed SFO jets coming in more due south indicating that some flight paths may have already shifted further down the peninsula? Maybe that helps Palo Alto, but all of them are still flying over EPA, often at lower altitudes than before. I hope this isn't Surf Air's new route. I moved into EPA in 1998. There was no jet traffic overhead at that time. My neighborhood was actually a quiet, pleasant place before NextGen.

Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 28, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Other Midtown wrote:

"Will the Surf Air planes really fly above Bay water when allowed, or will they just more or less follow 101, as I have already seen happen?"

Answer: no

See the new approach route:

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by bignose
a resident of University South
on Apr 28, 2016 at 1:29 pm

I used to be based at SQL and the new route is not new for most of us. The bay to the cement plant and then to SQL is one of the normal approaches to SQL and avoids passing over any houses In answer to Mimi, this should actually move approaches further from your house rather than closer.

6 people like this
Posted by Crazy Idea
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2016 at 3:44 pm

If you don't want to hear a helicopter at an airport then don't walk next to an airport.

2 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2016 at 4:20 pm


The Palo Alto Airport hasn't always been where it is. It used to be located between Stanford Avenue and Page Mill Road (where College Terrace is now).

Interesting how airports seem to end up on the border of their local jurisdiction. PAO/East Palo Alto, SJC/Santa Clara, OAK/San Leandro, and worst of all SFO/San Mateo.

3 people like this
Posted by Mimi
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2016 at 10:19 am

To Bignose,
Friday April 29 I heard and saw Surf Air fly over the flood triangle area in Menlo park three times at 8: 05, 8:55 and 9:35. The
Planes are distinct with blue under carriage. I didn't spend all qday outside but three flights that close together indicates what other neighborhoods can expect. The flood triangle area is west of 101 for from the supposed new flight path

2 people like this
Posted by Cry me a river, rich folk
a resident of Atherton
on May 9, 2016 at 3:58 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on May 9, 2016 at 7:55 pm

^LOL. I don't care who you are thats funny.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Hey crazy idea - guess what - the Palo Alto Baylands is a designated conservation location for everyone to enjoy, including the birds and animals.
The helicopter school is an annoyance for the PAO location and should be redirected to the San Jose Airport on the western side for commercial ventures, That is why you have the expanded services at the San Jose Airport - it is called "city and county planning". And they would get more business if they were in that location. That is called "common sense".

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2016 at 3:50 pm

It should be noted that the bay area planning includes opening the salt ponds at the bottom of the bay so there is a total baylands conservation area which will assist in future flood control efforts. Any water coming from the mountains will have a broader area to access into. Not sure how this will affect the PAO since it is not at the bottom of the bay but consider that planning is looking at the whole county - not just Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by James Huang
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 28, 2016 at 5:40 pm

It is GPS instrument, right? Why can't they use those devices to guide flying the VFR?

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