Starting Thursday, Surf Air will no longer have Bayside route option

FAA says six-month trial is over and evaluation will start

To the consternation of local residents and Surf Air alike, San Mateo County officials announced this week that the alternate route the commuter airline had been using to avoid the Midpeninsula on its way to the San Carlos Airport is no longer an option.

A letter from San Mateo County Assistant County Manager Mike Callagy says that starting Thursday, Jan. 5, the Federal Aviation Administration says that while it evaluates the six-month trial of the route, Surf Air will have to go back to using the original GPS route that takes it over residential neighborhoods, including some in Menlo Park, Atherton and North Fair Oaks, on the way to the San Carlos Airport.

The letter, dated Dec. 30 but distributed via email on Jan. 3, says the alternate flight path, known as the Bayside approach, "was developed for use by Surf Air in an effort to reduce aircraft noise for approximately 140,000 residents living near the GPS approach into the San Carlos Airport." The letter says Surf Air used the alternate route for about 60 percent of its flights during the trial period.

Surf Air started using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013 and now schedules as many as 36 flights a day to and from San Carlos. Its customers pay a monthly fee for unlimited flights within California and to Las Vegas. The airline recently started a separate operation in Europe.

Although all involved admit they knew that use of the Bayside route was a trial, most seemed surprised by its abrupt halt.

"We've known from the beginning that this was six-month test," said Jim Sullivan, Surf Air's senior vice president of operations. "We really didn't know what was going to happen at the end."

"Our pilots are going to be pretty disappointed" to no longer be able to use the Bayside route, he said. "They enjoyed flying it."

Sullivan said he does not know how long the FAA's evaluation of the trial will take, and county officials said they also were not sure of details of the evaluation.

Callagy said the county hopes the FAA sees the continuation of the alternative route "as not the perfect solution to this ongoing issue, but rather the best solution for now to bring some relief to those most impacted by commercial flights coming into the San Carlos Airport."

Atherton Mayor Mike Lempres said he had received numerous emails from residents upset about the ending of the Bayside route trial. He said the town would let the FAA know "we don't want this to go back to the old way" and try to get permission to continue to use the route during the evaluation period. "It's clearly important to our residents," he said.

Adam Ullman, a resident of North Fair Oaks who lives directly under Surf Air's GPS flight path to the San Carlos Airport, said he was "not surprised, but I'm obviously very disappointed" about the ending of the trial.

Use of the Bayside route meant "we would still hear the planes but the frequency was reduced – absolutely reduced," he said. "Instead of it being a constant nuisance, it became a more infrequent one."

However, he admitted, "we've always known that this was six-month test period and we could go back to square one. Here we are at square one.”

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley said he at first had believed the FAA's approval of the Bayside route was permanent. "Only later did the county become aware that this was a 'test' and the county didn’t necessarily know that the FAA would abruptly end the test," he said.

In March, the county's Board of Supervisors authorized a study of noise issues at the San Carlos Airport. Issuing of the final report and recommendations from the study has been delayed several times, and in December Supervisor Horsley said the report should be back before the supervisors in January or February.


18 people like this
Posted by Geri Spieler
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm

So, it never ends. I've become more vocal about my problem with airplane noise. We have lived here over 20 years. Until recently, noise from the skies seemed to be restricted to helicopters. Now, it is minute after minute of jet noise loud, whiny and persistent.

I've done my homework about the health effects of such noise and it isn't pretty. It is not just a problem for residents who happen to work or be at home several daytime hours. It invades all of us from early morning and late into the night. It effects our school children and animals.

The world, in general, is getting louder. The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Hearing, Bioacoustics, and Biomechanics (CHABA) found that impacts of aircraft noise, and noise in general, on the cognitive abilities of school-aged children has received more attention in recent years. Several studies suggest that aircraft noise can affect the academic performance of schoolchildren."

If the science is clearly there about the health effects on people and animals, why are we having such a difficult time getting this problem changed.And, more importantly, how did it get passed in the first place?

In the time it took me to write this note, I've recorded eight loud planes on my record.

11 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 5, 2017 at 3:41 pm

jh is a registered user.

Just wait until Surf Air is operating out of Palo Alto. Because the city accepted a grant from the FAA (to help the city pay to upgrading the badly neglected the runway), Palo Alto is not allowed to restrict commercial access to the airport.

Although a rather small percentage of Palo Alto residents own airplanes and use the airport, when the city council voted to take over the airport from the county a year or two ago (including the expense incurred to bring the airport up to date after years of neglect, maintain, and ongoing expense to run) lmany more Palo Alto residents' quality of life will be adversely affected compared to the number of Palo Alto residents who use the airport. And the number of older residents who trained to fly while serving in the US Air Force and use the airport is dwindling faster than they are being replaced with younger pilots.

Unfortunately the smaller turboprop airplanes have to use leaded aviation fuel or their engines could stall, and there is not or likely to be any alternative. Very unhealthy to live underneath their flight paths as they come in to land or take off. Especially for children. In addition they are allowed to fly much much lower than the large commercial jets.

11 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Small clarification to jh's comment about fuel. All turboprop aircraft (and the other turbine-based aircraft) use jet fuel, a type of kerosene. Commercial jet fuel has no lead.

As to piston aircraft, yes, they still used leaded fuel. The FAA is actively evaluating unleaded avgas proposals. Four proposals were accepted for the initial evaluation about two years ago; that was narrowed down to two proposals last March.

4 people like this
Posted by hd
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2017 at 8:24 am

jh way to stay on topic and cite accurate information! /s

surfair won't be using palo alto - it was originally planned as their base but the reality is the runway is short and the facilities are poorly suited for their operation.

the "smaller turboprop airlines" do not use leaded fuel. turboprops are what they sound like: turbines. they use jet fuel. perhaps you are referring to the piston-driven planes? which have been around for ages and have have a considerably more limited sound footprint than turbines?

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2017 at 10:55 am

Makes no sense, but that's government for you. " ~!

5 people like this
Posted by Stewart
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 6, 2017 at 8:02 pm

The noise from both surf air planes, and the larger jets going from SFO and SJC is really a huge problem.

Can anyone clarify what the minimum height requirements are for the planes when they fly over palo alto?

At times I feel I can wave to the surf air pilots they are so low. And the jets into SFO are incredibly noisy and keep my entire family up all night.

I call on our local and regional officials to step up their efforts to protect the citizens from particle pollution as well as noise pollution that affect our community.

3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2017 at 3:27 am

@Stewart -- technically the minimum altitude for any plane over Palo Alto is 1000 feet above the highest obstacle (not applicable to helicopters). Also technically the speed limit on Embarcadero is 25 mph.

1 person likes this
Posted by Hair_Splitter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm

-- Posted by Elizabeth
-- Makes no sense, but that's government for you. " ~!

I understand the exaspertion, but that is the government when it is run
by behind the scenes corporate interests and very rich people that have
no accountability.

When was the last time you got to vote at a store you go to or that
operates in your neighborhood? At least with government you can
try to demand that it work democratically, and have a say.

It's a bit sad when I see that knee-jerk bash government slogan made
famous by Reagan. Well, Reagan got the government out of our hair,
and things about less responsive to the people, seems to me.

2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2017 at 10:27 pm

"Reagan got the government out of our hair, ..."

That was his talking point to his Base, to cover him while he built the federal government bureaucracy to its highest level in history, raised our taxes eleven times, and doubled the national debt. His Base bought it like bovines, and still applauds Reagan for slashing bureaucracy, cutting taxes, and balancing the budget.

Considering that that level of thinking prevails in a large segment of the populace, we shouldn't expect much relief based on facts.

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo cat owner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2017 at 4:13 am

Time to consider shutting down San Carlos airport. Executives will be forced to fly out of SFO like everyone else poor things!

2 people like this
Posted by Question about altitudes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2017 at 9:38 am


"technically the altitude for any plane is 1000 feet above the highest obstacle.....also technicallly the speed linit on Embarcadero is 25 mph"

hmmmm - maybe its time to build one very (very) tall skyscraper downtown

question - isn't there supposed to be different spaces for commercial and general aviation? all planes can fly at 1000 feet?

On embarcadero all cars can go at 25 mph.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 8, 2017 at 11:32 pm

@Question -- don't need skyscraper, radio antenna will do.

Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.119(b) specifies the 1000 foot minimum altitude over "congested" areas. Looks to me like it applies to all airplanes. A Southwest 737 inbound for San Jose flew over Palo Verde at 2800 feet at 10:00am this morning, descending to 2600 before crossing 101 toward the bay. Nothing in the regs I could find would have prohibited descent to 1000 feet. Except anyone flying below 2000 feet in this neighborhood requires contacting the Palo Alto Airport Control Tower. A mile further north that 737 would've needed explicit permission from the San Francisco Airport Control Tower unless it descended below 2500 feet. It's a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle up there among SFO, SJC, PAO, and NUQ (Moffett).

Careful with the terms commercial and general aviation. Doesn't necessarily mean big planes vs little planes. A putt-putt Cessna pilot being paid to take a sightseer whale-watching is commercial aviation and requires a commercial pilot license. Same for a professional crop-duster. The Google guys flying their 767 out of Moffett is general aviation. The terms "airliner" or "scheduled air service" are more definitive, but still muddy with commuter operations like Surf Air.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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