Lindbergh Field: Myths, Misconceptions - Los Angeles Times

Updated: Mar 30

By GARY WONACOTT APRIL 12, 1987



GARY WONACOTT LIVES IN A NOISE-AFFECTED AREA AND HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN THE NOISE ISSUE FOR SEVERAL YEARS


For decades, the San Diego Unified Port District, city officials, the Chamber of Commerce and the Airline Transport Assn. (ATA) have built an invisible shield of myths and misconceptions around Lindbergh Field. However, data from a new study is shedding light on these myths and misconceptions.


The State of California required the port to perform an FAA-funded study and to develop a noise abatement program for Lindbergh Field. The port’s noise consultants (Rawlings Enterprises and BBN) have made noise measurements using microphones stationed at 24 spots at and around the airport.


They have tracked aircraft arriving at and departing Lindbergh; they have taken testimony from hundreds of residents in the noise-affected areas as well as from the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the military and the airlines. They have compared the noise problem at Lindbergh Field with other noise-sensitive airports. They have weighed the benefits of various noise abatement measures against the potential consequences.


The consultants have, in fact, put a lot of new data on the table. As a result, the myths and misconceptions have begun to crumble. I have reviewed several of my favorite myths and misconceptions below in light of the new data.


Myth No. 1: “Lindbergh Field doesn’t have a unique noise problem.”

Wrong! San Diego’s Lindbergh Field has the worst noise problem in California and the worst in the country when based on number of departures and arrivals (Lindbergh Field ranks 25th nationally).


The Port District’s noise consultant, Rawlings Enterprises, recently reported that the conditions at both ends of the runway are intolerable and completely incompatible with residential living. At Point Loma High School and Loma Portal Elementary School, noise samplings 30 to 40 times higher than the background noise levels at other city schools were taken when departing USAir and United Airlines 727-200s (older, “Stage II” jets) flew over. Similar noise levels were measured at a microphone near Ocean Beach Elementary School and the Ocean Beach Recreation Center.


The size of the incompatible noise areas is so large that the port’s consultants declined to estimate the cost of providing soundproofing in these areas. Instead, they used the term “astronomical” to describe the amount of money required. There are approximately 65,000 people living and working in the incompatible noise areas (the port doesn’t count military personnel and contends there are only 40,000).


Misconception No. 2: “The noise levels are coming down; things are getting better.”

It is difficult to pin down Bill Morgan, the noise information officer at Lindbergh Field, on this question. He says it depends on what kind of noise we are talking about.


We should be able to get a more quantitative indication of the noise trends from the port’s quarterly reports to the county and state (which are required by the state because Lindbergh Field operates with a noise variance). A quick review of the rhetoric contained in the reports could lead one to conclude that we are making steady, significant progress toward satisfying the Noise Abatement Plan the port gave the state in 1981. However, a more detailed analysis of the data in the reports reveals that, since 1981, the areas at both ends of the airport most affected by the noise have doubled in size.


Myth No. 3: “Sure, we would like to do something about the noise, but we can’t do something that is going to ruin the economy of San Diego.”


The Chamber of Commerce and the ATA have been saying this for years. Today this contention is sure poppycock. San Diego is the second-largest city in California. People don’t come here to see Lindbergh Field. They come here to see the beaches and bays, the zoo, Wild Animal Park and Sea World. As long as people are attracted to San Diego and it is profitable to transport them in and out, the airlines will continue to fly here regardless of the departure track they have to take, the aircraft they are required to fly or the hours they are allowed to come and go.


Many cities around the country have been implementing noise abatement programs for years, without any evidence that their economies have suffered. They believe that ultimately their airports can serve more passengers and provide more service if they move to implement aggressive noise abatement programs. I challenge the chamber and the ATA to show me one city that has been damaged financially as a result of implementing noise abatement measures. Just one! A more important question to ask is how much money is Lindbergh Field costing this city today with its inherent size constraints.


Misconception No. 4: “There are no solutions to the Lindbergh Field noise problem.”

Wrong again! The solutions have been there for a long time, but now we have the port’s noise consultants recommending 12 to 14 noise mitigation measures. The implementation of these noise-mitigating measures will shrink the size of the most-affected areas about 93%. Several of the more interesting recommendations made by the port’s consultants include:


- Assign all airplanes leaving Lindbergh Field to fly to the end of the runway before turning northwest over Mission Bay. Fears that jets would roar over Pacific Beach and La Jolla are unfounded, as the consultants say they could head due west before reaching the end of the bay. This measure removes about 12,000 people living in Ocean Beach, Point Loma and Mission Beach from the incompatible noise areas, while adding no new homes.

- Require most air carriers to have at least 65% Stage III aircraft (the newer, quieter jets) by June 30, 1988, and at least 80% Stage III operations by June 30, 1991; night departures should be 100% Stage III by June 30, 1987.

- Extend from seven to eight hours the nighttime departure curfew.

- Require airlines to announce equipment changes 45 days before the change is implemented with an explanation for introduction of any new Stage II aircraft.

- Increase the role (and, in my judgment, the number of residential representatives) of the Lindbergh Field Noise Advisory Committee.

- Establish a maximum single-event noise level to identify the top 1% of noisy aircraft.


Misconception No. 5: “The 40,000-65,000 residents living in the incompatible noise areas around Lindbergh Field are powerless to do anything about their condition.”

Today there is substantial data that confirms what many of us have known for a long time: the noise levels from Lindbergh Field aircraft departures and arrivals are intolerable and getting worse, and solutions are available that can make living in many areas around the airport bearable. Not good, but bearable.


So what can you do to make a difference? Read, educate yourself, and complain both in writing and by phone, like they are doing in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Although the problem there is minuscule compared to San Diego’s, the airport operator at Minneapolis-St. Paul received 18,000 noise complaints last year compared to 750 received by Lindbergh Field’s noise information officer. It could be that his recording machine has intermittent failure (because of the noise), but more likely, we have just learned to accept the noise.


So how do we--you--get involved. One way would be to move to Minneapolis. Better yet, contact the mayor and your City Council members and county supervisors. Let them know that we want solutions implemented now. We want our council members to pressure the San Diego-appointed port commissioners (Bill Rick, Louis Wolfsheimer and Dan Larsen) to seek implementation of a comprehensive noise abatement program.


San Diego is a 21st-Century city. Let’s all do what we can to build ourselves a quieter, 21st-Century airport.

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