When will they learn? If they live near an airport, they’re going to hear aircraft noise.

Yesterday, while wandering Las Vegas Boulevard with my husband, taking in the outrageous sights of the mega-casinos with my husband, I got a phone call from the guy I sold my FBO business to. He’s still there and apparently only calls me when he has something to annoy me about.

Yesterday was noise. “A guy called and said you flew over his house three times yesterday.”

I explained patiently that that was not possible. I’d left Wickenburg at 7 AM that day and hadn’t been back.

The conversation didn’t take long to turn ugly. Apparently the complainer didn’t think it was important to provide his name and phone number or even the location of his house. Perhaps he thinks I shouldn’t overfly any house anywhere in the world. I told the FBO guy that it obviously wasn’t me and that I wasn’t about to take the rap for every helicopter pilot in Arizona who happened to fly near some unidentified guy’s house in Wickenburg. I told him that it wasn’t his problem — he ran the fuel concession and had no other management responsibilities at the airport — and that he should have the complainer call me directly.

But that wasn’t enough for the FBO guy. He started recycling earlier parts of the same conversation. He said he might have to take it to the Town — clearly some kind of threat in his mind. I told him to go ahead. I told him that I was following FAA regulations regarding minimum flight altitudes. I added that as a business owner, it wasn’t in my best interest to annoy the public. This guy obviously had some kind of axe to grind and he was attempting to grind it with me.

But that still wasn’t enough for this FBO guy. I had no idea what he wanted me to say because he never suggested anything. He just kept recycling points from earlier in the conversation. We’d still be talking if I hadn’t cut it short by saying goodbye and hanging up.

He called back moments later. I pushed the Ignore button on my phone. He left a text message saying it was last week, not this week. Yes, let’s get the facts after we make the complaint. And make sure the facts fit the story.

I texted back, telling him to have the complainer contact me directly. That’s the last I heard from him.

One Complainer I Do Know

There’s only one guy in town who has ever complained to me about noise — and I’ve been flying helicopters out of Wickenburg since 2000. It’s a guy who lives in the Country Club area, which is conveniently located just southeast of the approach for Runway 23 (see satellite image below). He showed up at the airport one day right after I landed, steaming and ready to make a fight. He complained that I’d flown over his house too low and that I should not fly over Country Club when I came into the airport.

I said, “Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”

That took the steam out of him. He had nothing else to say, so he left.

I began following Sols Wash into the airport when I arrive from the east or southeast and winds are favoring Runway 23. That path has me descending from about 700 feet AGL over town to about 300 to 400 feet at Vulture Mine Road over an empty wash area that no one lives in. So I don’t fly directly over any homes from the point where I pick up Sols Wash in downtown Wickenburg. An easy enough solution.

But a few weeks ago, I talked to Dave, another local helicopter pilot. He said he’s spent over an hour on the phone with what was likely the same guy. The guy told him that helicopters should avoid the Country Club area by flying 3 miles north or south of it on their way in. Dave pointed out that that simply wasn’t practical. Country club was about 3/4 mile from the airport. Why would anyone fly 3 miles out of their way to land at the airport?

When Dave told me about this, I pointed out that a 3-mile diversion would have us flying over other houses that weren’t within the normal aircraft traffic area. As people who buy homes close to an airport know, they’re required to sign an easement with the town that shows they understand their proximity to an airport that’s likely to generate noise. Why should we make a practice of overflying the homes of people who were smart enough to buy outside the airport influence area?

Stupid Planning, Stupid Development, Stupid Home Buyers

It all boils down to sheer stupidity.

The town takes a generous land donation years ago to build a very nice little municipal airport. At the time, the nearby Phoenix metro area is small and the town is tiny. The airport gets use primarily from a few hobbyists. But as the town grows, the planners don’t realize that more people means more airplanes. And if you want nice resorts, you’re going to get corporate jets. Blind — or perhaps I should say deaf — to the noise issues of an airport, they allow development to get ever closer to the airport. Soon, there are homes on three sides of the runway.

Then the town and planners, in their infinite wisdom, take a very large grant from the Federal Government to stretch one end of the runway 1500 feet toward the Country Club that has sprung up on its approach end. So now planes are taking off and landing 1/4 mile closer to these homes. And heck, just for the fun of it, they approve Hermosa Ranch, which will put another 34 homes right at the end of that runway, less than 3500 feet from the runway’s centerline.

The following image from GoogleMaps shows the reality of the situation. I purposely left the scale indicator in the image to show how close everything is.

Wickenburg Airport

Meanwhile, greedy developers hop onto the real estate boom and build as many homes as they can get on that land. The town obliges by changing the zoning from one house per acre to two or three or four houses per acre, just so they can cram them in.

Then the Realtors come in and sell these homes to unsuspecting — or maybe unbelieving — home buyers. I spoke to one realtor when “Traffic Pattern Acres” (our name for Black Mountain Ranch) went up for sale on the west side of the airport, right under the airport’s traffic pattern. “There’s never any planes at that airport,” he told me angrily.

Hmm. Tell that to the flight schools from the Phoenix area who use it for landing practice every day: Pan Am Flight Academy, Westwind, Embry Riddle, Silver State Helicopters, Universal Helicopters, Lufthansa, and Sabena. And what about the L39s that come up from Deer Valley for practice landings and 120-knot flybys? I bet they really rattle the china.

So people are told, “Sure, there’s an airport over there. And you need to sign this piece of paper. But the airport’s used by just a few local pilots and isn’t very busy at all. Sign on the dotted line.”

And people sign it.

And when the jets come in and out, and the flight schools practice takeoffs and landings, and Embry Riddle does an all-day spot landing competition, and the helicopters practice autorotations they start to complain.

The Mystery Complainer

I don’t know who’s been complaining about me lately. I’m pretty sure it’s the same guy. He’s the only guy that ever does. (I really do fly neighborly whenever possible.) And, if it is, I know I’m not flying over his house. (But yes, I am flying within 3 miles of it and I will continue to do so until they move the airport. Hell, I fly within 3 miles of my own house!)

But I won’t know who it is unless he comes forward and tells me where he lives. What is he afraid of? Does he think I’ll land in his backyard? How does he expect me to identify his home as a “noise sensitive” area if he doesn’t tell me where it is?

And what does he honestly expect? If he lives near an airport, he’s going to hear aircraft noise.


8 thoughts on “Noise

  1. Thanks for your post. Don’t know if this relates much, but the soundscape within a five-mile stretch of my area has been getting much noisier within the past five years and it will continue to escalate. Development will continue to increase while crime shows no signs of decrease. At the same time, mitigation of the copter noise by the air division will not continue to increase by much. I know this firsthand from the lieutenant, who discussed the issue in depth with me. Anyway, here are a couple of suggestions in general. Number one, those sensitive to copter noise should invest in high-quality, high-decibel-blockage earplugs. Second, communities should consider developing their own noise maps. Yes, airports have them, but they very rarely extend beyond the airport. I’m not aware of any one city in the entire country that has published its own noise map. The nearest airport from me (excepting small launching pads) is about ten miles. However, from all indications, due to the crime in the immediate area and law enforcement’s decision to use air support extensively, the soundscape is noisy practically all the time. For some who have lived in this area for a long time, some factors necessitate remaining to live in the area. I think you are correct when you note that development of crammed housing certainly does not mitigate these issues. Anyway, noise mapping, if used effectively, can help potential homebuyers decide where they should live. Thanks for allowing me to post.

  2. Oddly enough, the town uses its airport noise profile — created by its “consultants” — to prove that noise isn’t an issue in the Hermosa Ranch development to be built at the end of the runway. While you and I know and are willing to acknowledge that there’s noise at airports, developers and Realtors would prefer to deny it and sell to unsuspecting buyers who don’t do their homework.

    Thanks very much for your comment. It’s always great to get helpful feedback that provides an additional point of view.

  3. Well, out our house we wave as you fly over. Since taking our ride with you, at Congress Days, whenever a helicopter flies near the house my son asks, “Is that Maria?”. Some people make a hobby of complaining. Maybe he should have taken up residence near Luke AFB.

  4. As a totally innocent bystander, I can only applaud your comments. I watched the housing developments crowd O’Hare back in the day in Chicago; after all, the prices were somewhat lower (I wonder why) and the location awfully convenient. Of course, shortly thereafter, complaints began. Nobody appears to follow the practical advice of pick your neighbors very, very carefully…

    GrannyJ’s last blog post: Steps and stairs everywhere you look

  5. Maria – you are surprised why??

    This is the town that in one breath supports Luke AFB, and in the next meeting they try to attack Luke because of the traffic..

    And given we still have the E25 number 5690, we still get noise complaints! We send them to Miles.

  6. Hey, Nick. Heard you went to San Diego.

    The town is its own worst enemy — you know that. After going through endless debates, getting the FAA involved, and going through a prolonged RFP process, I FINALLY got them to offer me a contract for Lifenet’s old space. By the time they got the lease together, I realized I’d be an idiot to enter into a contractual arrangement with the Town of Wickenburg. I’m taking my business out of town.

    Getting noise complaints about me? Or just pilots in general? I wonder.

    And I still get calls from fractionals trying to arrange for catering after hours.

  7. “While you and I know and are willing to acknowledge that there’s noise at airports, developers and Realtors would prefer to deny it and sell to unsuspecting buyers who don’t do their homework.”

    Any unsuspecting buyers notwithstanding, are developers and realtors not required by law to disclose any and all health and environmental issues in the area, including noise-related issues? Are developers and realtors not accountable to local government?

  8. Todd, they are required to disclose certain things by law. But believe it or not, the developers have actually fought the town in the past to change the “airport influence area” so it did not include their developments. (I’m thinking specifically of the new development under construction just south of the airport; can’t remember its name, but it’s on the Flying E’s property.)

    And no, in Wickenburg they’re evidently NOT accountable to local government, especially when the Mayor and Council have such close ties to real estate ventures and mortgage companies.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs here in Wickenburg. And yes, it’s happening “everywhere” — or at least that’s what everyone keeps telling me, as if it makes it okay — but it hurts so much more when it’s your own town.

What do you think?