The sound and the fury

Valorie Kurtz knew when she bought her home 15 years ago that she would be sleeping under the flight path from Bob Hope Airport.

But living with the noise was still an adjustment. Outdoors, she said, people simply stop talking when a jet engine roars overhead. Even indoors, "when they started flying bigger planes, you couldn't hear when the door was shut."

Just last month, Kurtz's home on Maple Street in Burbank was soundproofed. At no expense to her family, workers replaced her windows and doors with special noise-buffering models, and put sound barriers over her kitchen vent and chimney.

"It's amazing that they are doing all this," Kurtz said. "They are very into making you happy."

In exchange, Kurtz signed a promise that she would never sue the airport over flight noise. She is one of more than 1,500 property owners to sign up for the program since it started in 1997. Overall, the airport has retrofitted 1,740 homes, condos or apartments.

Even as soundproofing work is slated for another 470 residential units, airport officials are gearing up for a study to redraw the map of where they must address so-called noise pollution from flights.

Mark Hardyment, the airport's director of noise and environmental programs, said his staff has recommended an outside firm to do the more than two-year study and is awaiting approval from the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority board of directors.

The factors that will determine the dimensions of the covered area include the size of aircraft using the airport, and the frequency and times of landings and takeoffs.

The current map is shaped like a T around the airport, stretching west from Hatteras Street on the Burbank-North Hollywood border to neighborhoods near Interstate 5 in Sunland. The zone also includes a few North Hollywood blocks directly west of the airport.

Hardyment declined to say whether he thought the new map will be smaller or look different than the current one.

But upgrades in aircraft make flights quieter, he said, which might reduce the size of the affected area. American Airlines is in the process of retiring McDonnell-Douglas M-80 planes — once among the quietest of commercial craft, Hardyment said — for even quieter Boeing 737 800s.

On the other hand, commercial air traffic might increase in the coming years if the economy makes a comeback, bringing more noise.

Hardyment said overall traffic at the airport has dropped over the years, even as commercial traffic has picked up. In 1978, the airport saw 300,000 takeoffs and landings. Fewer than 50,000 were commercial flights, Hardyment said.

Today, commercial flights account for about 60,000 takeoffs and landings a year, but the total number of operations is only 109,000.

"We have seen a tremendous reduction in general aviation aircraft," Hardyment said, adding that private pilots have nearly disappeared from Bob Hope Airport, using more remote regional landing strips instead.

But while the slow economy has kept the number of commercial flights in check, the airport has seen one benefit from the recession: Construction costs for home retrofits have plunged. In early 2008, Hardyment said, the average cost for work on one home averaged $45,000. Today, it is $31,000.

For more information on the residential acoustical treatment program, call (818) 842-1732.

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