Joint task force on air traffic noise takes flight

Studio for Quiet Skies co-founder Suellen Wagner
Studio City resident Suellen Wagner comments about aircraft noise issues during the first meeting of the Southern San Fernando Valley Airplane Noise Task Force on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport. She and about 200 residents from the south San Fernando Valley have been complaining about an increase in air traffic above their homes over the last two years.
(Anthony Clark Carpio/Burbank Leader)

The first meeting of the Southern San Fernando Valley Airplane Noise Task Force underwent some turbulence, but the wheels are off the ground and discussions to find a solution to noise issues stemming from the Hollywood Burbank and Van Nuys airports are underway.

About 200 people from Studio City, Sherman Oaks and other neighborhoods in the south San Fernando Valley, as well as some from Burbank gathered inside a conference room at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Wednesday evening to tell the 13-member task force that the flights departing from the two local airports have been deteriorating their quality of life for the past two years and that an immediate solution is necessary.

Many people in the crowd held up signs that read “FIX IT NOW!” every time a speaker mentioned how the planes flying over their homes have been affecting them.

Studio City resident Suellen Wagner, co-founder of a group called Studio City for Quiet Skies, has been at the forefront of the issue for the past two years and told the task force members that it is their job as elected officials to protect them.

“We will not give up until our lives have been restored,” she said.

The task force includes Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, Burbank Vice Mayor Sharon Springer, Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, as well as Los Angeles City Council members Paul Krekorian, David Ryu, Paul Koretz and Nury Martinez.

Gabel-Luddy was elected by the group to be the chair of the task force, and Krekorian will be vice chair.

Like many others in his neighborhood, Sherman Oaks resident Roy Lyons said he and his wife face a relentless amount of noise coming from planes flying overhead.

He added that neither of them can enjoy their backyard anymore and that the peace and serenity they once had is gone because of the flights leaving from the Burbank and Van Nuys airfields.

“We don’t go outside our house anymore,” Lyons said. “We lock the doors, we close the windows and we stay inside because we can’t hear each other when we talk in the morning. It’s upsetting, it’s affecting our day-to-day to the point where we’re even talking about selling the house and moving out of our community that we’ve thrived in, enjoyed and were hoping to relish in during our retirement.”

For the past two years, several residents from the south San Fernando Valley have been reaching out to Hollywood Burbank officials with concerns about how more planes have been flying over their communities than before.

Many people blame the Federal Aviation Administration and its Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen — a satellite-based system that was implemented in the Southern California region in March 2017, aimed at making flights across the country safer and more fuel and time efficient.

A study conducted by consulting firm Landrum & Brown in October 2018 determined that the flight paths shifted farther south from around the 101 Freeway to over Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

Aircraft leaving Hollywood Burbank used to leave the airport from the south and make their northbound turns near the freeway.

However, since the implementation of the system, those flights have been making their turns over the south San Fernando Valley.

Hollywood Burbank officials said in June NextGen is not immediately implemented during departures from the airport. They have also stated in the past that warmer weather and a recovering economy — which results in more passengers per plane — have contributed to lower-flying aircraft.

The FAA in late July agreed that the flight paths have moved over the south San Fernando Valley but stated that air-traffic controllers have been directing flights out of the Burbank airfield the same way before the new system was implemented.

Raquel Girvin, the Western-Pacific region regional administrator for the FAA, attended the meeting on Wednesday. She said after the meeting that NextGen becomes a factor in flight departures at Hollywood Burbank after the planes have departed the airfield from the south and make their northbound turns.

She concurred with the comments made by FAA officials last month, adding that there are other factors, such as the volume of air traffic stemming from Hollywood Burbank and Van Nuys, that can impact where the planes fly.

“You have to make sure that there’s separation between the aircraft that are coming in from Burbank and flying out of Van Nuys,” Girvin said. “It’s a very complex airspace. Bottom line is there’s lots of different factors.”

While many residents at the meeting said they’ve been negatively affected by the flight-path changes, North Hollywood resident Kim Selfon said her neighborhood has become much quieter.

She said she sympathizes with her neighbors from Studio City and Sherman Oaks but told the task force the solution they come up with needs to be fair to everyone.

“I hope that you’ll think about all your constituents and how everybody’s lives are impacted,” Selfon said.

This newly formed task force — a collaboration between Hollywood Burbank and the Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Van Nuys Airport — now has the responsibility of gathering input from area communities and handing recommendations to consultant HMMH Inc. to be vetted and and reviewed for feasibility.

Gene Reindel, vice president and director of aviation services for HMMH, said the task force is expected to have six meetings to boil down all of the recommendations. However, more meetings can be requested, if needed.

After all of the suggestions are reviewed, task force members will determine the best solution for everyone impacted by the noise. The task force also includes representatives for U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Tony Cardenas.

Harris was unable to send a representative to Wednesday’s meeting.

Reindel said the eight city-elected officials will be the only voting board members.

Peter Muller, the state deputy director for Feinstein who represented her at the meeting, said the Senate and House ethics committees advised him and the other federal representatives that it would be appropriate for them to participate but not as voting members, saying that it would be a conflict with the senators’ and representatives’ roles and the role of the FAA.

There also might be some consideration to add more members to the task force.

Carlos Torres, director of environmental health and safety for the Los Angeles Unified School District, asked if it was possible to join the group to ensure the well-being of students who might be affected by any additional flight-path changes.

Patrick Lammerding, deputy executive director of planning and development at Hollywood Burbank Airport, said he was happy to finally see a representative from the FAA hear firsthand from residents about how the flight-path changes affect them.

Lammerding, who previously worked for the FAA as an assistant manager and airport safety inspector, said the meeting could have been conducted without having an FAA representative witness the process, but that would have meant whatever recommendation is put before the agency would have to be explained in-depth.

By having Girvin or an FAA representative at all of the task force meetings, Lammerding said there is no excuse for saying an idea won’t work.

“By doing it this way, they’re here and they know what’s going on,” Lammerding said. “We don’t have to convince them that we went through a consensus-based approach. They can see it.”

Krekorian, who lives in Studio City, said he is fully aware of what is happening because he witnesses it daily.

He added that everyone needs to get past the finger-pointing in order for the task force and the community to find a solution that works and is fair to everyone.

“This is our opportunity to have a dialogue with this airport and with our federal regulators, and hopefully as a result of our discussions and engagement with the community, our federal representatives will clearly understand the direction that the communities that are impacted by this airport and their elected representatives want to proceed upon,” Krekorian said.

“That’s the work product that I hope will come out of this over the next few meetings,” he added.

After nearly 70 residents spoke at the meeting, Gabel-Luddy said hearing from the public was an eye-opening experience and that she understands that a solution needs to be implemented soon.

She said she is looking forward to the next meeting, which is tentatively slated for Sept. 11 at a location yet to be announced

“We have to give this task force a chance,” Gabel-Luddy said. “This is the first time during my nine years on City Council that I’ve seen this kind of effort, and the first time in the last two years that this has been an issue for the Los Angeles hillsides.”

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