The Federal Aviation Administration is considering making the route Surf Air has used to avoid homes on the Midpeninsula – by flying over the Bay – an official fair-weather route. But an organized group of residents from Sunnyvale has turned out in force against the route saying it transfers the noise to their neighborhood.
On Wednesday, the FAA held what it called an informational meeting in San Jose as part of its consideration of whether to make what it calls the Bayside Visual Approach an official charted flight path.
That would mean the route could only be used when pilots can actually see the airport, but could be flown using instruments, which many pilots consider safer to do even in visual conditions.
The meeting was held in the Santa Clara County Government Center in San Jose starting at 6 p.m., and many of those attending complained about the location as being far and difficult to reach from the areas affected by Surf Air flights.
Nonetheless, about 100 people showed up, the vast majority of them wearing bright orange T-shirts signifying they were part of the Save Our Sunny Skies group. That group, made up of mostly Sunnyvale and Cupertino residents, is protesting the route because it brings more planes into the already congested airspace over their homes.
Officials had designed the meeting to include about 40 minutes of presentations from Surf Air, the FAA and the San Carlos Airport – which is owned and operated by San Mateo County – and then move out into the lobby, where people could ask questions of the officials.
But dozens from the Save Our Sunny Skies group, including a leader with a megaphone, refused to go along and said they wouldn't leave until the officials were regrouped in the auditorium to answer questions from and to the group.
Officials agreed to return to the auditorium, but only after most of the meeting attendees who were not part of the Save Our Sunny Skies group had left.
The route was developed by Surf Air in cooperation with the FAA after Midpeninsula residents complained about the noisy Pilatus PC-12 turboprop planes the commuter airline uses.
The FAA allowed Surf Air to use the Bayside Visual Approach for a six-month experimental period that ended in January. The route takes planes over the Bay – starting in Santa Clara County near Moffett Field – as they descend toward the San Carlos Airport.
The FAA has evaluated the results of the trial, during which conditions allowed Surf Air pilots to use the route about 67 percent of the time, and is now doing an environmental review.
Thann McLeod, a manager of airspace and procedures, planning and requirements for the FAA, told the group that her "primary responsibility in the FAA is safety."
"If something is not going to work, it's not going to work for a reason, not because I'm favoring one community over another," she said. She may have been anticipating that if the FAA decides not to make the approach official, Midpeninsula residents will be angry; if it does approve it, the Sunnyvale and Cupertino residents will be angry.
Because the air space in the Bay Area is so congested, the FAA had little choice in choosing the route, she said. "We run out of room very, very quickly," she said. "This was the best we could do."
"We did put a lot of thought into this procedure when we designed it," she said.
Surf Air and Encompass, the company that has taken over the operations part of the SurfAir business, say that they have been working to find another air route to the San Carlos Airport and have experimented with a route that comes in from the east over the Bay and avoids more residential areas.
"We need a global solution," said Charlie Caviris, the Encompass chief pilot. The route from the east "is a way that we can greatly reduce noise for communities," he said.
The FAA says comments will be taken on the Bayside approach until Oct. 27. Comments can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to: Noise Concerns, AJV-W25, FAA, 1601 Lind Ave. SW, Renton, WA 98057. Comments may also be made on the FAA website, which also includes a number of presentations from the meeting.
After the six-month trial ended, Surf Air pilots continued to use the route while the FAA studied the results. Existing regulations allow pilots to fly non-charted routes under visual flight conditions, but they, not air traffic controllers, are responsible for maintaining separation from other aircraft and obstacles.
Surf Air started using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, and by July of this year had 228 flights a week arriving at or departing from San Carlos. Its customers pay a monthly fee for unlimited flights.