Politely Quiet Airports

by Harold Green
@August 2020 All rights reserved.
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2020 issue

Usually this column is devoted to subjects related to piloting techniques with an emphasis on safety. However, in this column the emphasis is on piloting techniques which contribute to our ability to continue flying from our favorite airport. As an example, we’ll look at the history of the airport from which I fly, Middleton Municipal Airport – Morey Field (C29), because I am very familiar with its features and history. However, the issues are not unique to C29. Some even apply to those operating from private airstrips out in the country.

Every airport or airstrip has some history. In the case of C29, the airport was established in 1942 as a privately-owned airport. At the time it was a couple of miles from the Village of Middleton. It served as a training center for the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) during World War II. Flight training, charters, maintenance and aircraft sales were provided. The airport operated with minimum problems until the late 1990s. Noise complaints were minimal.

As the cost of taxes, maintaining and improving the airport became greater, the Morey family sold the airport to the now City of Middleton. Before, and at the same time, housing developments grew near the airport, principally to the south and west. At this time the pattern for Runway 30 was modified to call for a climb straight out to pattern altitude, throttle back, then turn onto crosswind. The city had also built up east of the airport.

When the airport was sold to the city, a new 4,000 ft. paved runway was built, and its heading was changed from 30 to 28, which made the departure path just barely north of a housing development. This housing development is mid upscale with most homes valued at between $400,000 to $700,000. The development begins about three-quarters of a mile west and slightly south of the departure end of Runway 28. Prior to the change, noise complaints were occasionally heard, but they became vastly more frequent and strident with the new runway. A noise complaint hotline was established to provide a convenient means for people to lodge complaints.

People were concerned that jet noise would disturb them. Recently one resident complained that they were afraid the F-35s, which are slated to be based at nearby Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wis., would be operated out of the 4,000 ft. runway at C29. This was no more ridiculous than the person who was afraid that scheduled airlines would begin operations at C29. Of course, one of the more frequent concerns were that corporate jets could now operate from the airport, which they do, but the small corporate jets tend to be quieter than some of the high-performance piston aircraft that use the airport. That does not deter the folks who are concerned about jets.

In an attempt to inform the public, numerous meetings were held with officials from the FAA, staff from C29, and members of the airport commission. It became apparent that logic had little to do with the concerns of our neighbors. The FAA was involved on more than one occasion and representatives of the concerned citizens contacted our United States Senator.

The FAA cleared the airport and its operations. The Senator responded twice, first to assure constituents that the FAA would be consulted. The second time the Senator responded that the FAA had found everything to be within prescribed conditions and operations, but that if future concerns arose on other issues, to please contact his office.

For the moment, the issue was closed as far as the federal government was concerned. That, however, was not a deterrent to those dedicated to winning their battle. This had apparently become a matter of ego for some. Consequently, several things happened which were relayed to me.

First, following a night IMC approach to Runway 10 by a twin-engine aircraft, a resident felt it was too low and proceeded to drive to the airport, watched the pilot put the plane away, then followed the pilot home. Police were called and the resident was warned that his actions were illegal and prosecution would follow should there be another incident.

Second and perhaps the most amusing was the lady who called in to complain about the green plane that had been flying around for a couple of hours and threatened to call the FAA if the airport did not stop it. She was nonplused when told we would provide the telephone number, so she could complain about the green King Air that the FAA was using to calibrate the instrument approaches at the airport. Of course, complaints were received from other areas as well, but the predominant area was as described above.

Numerous public meetings were held and people were heard at the monthly meeting of the airport commission. Their protestations were received respectfully, but no further changes were forthcoming. In order to be good neighbors, the pattern at C29 was modified and training was changed to conduct touch and goes at outlying airports when practical to do so.

The departure pattern for Runway 28 was modified to call for a turn to the north of about 20 degrees as soon as possible after takeoff. When remaining in the pattern, pilots should climb to pattern altitude before turning crosswind and then throttle back to reduce noise levels. Essentially this was the same pattern that was flown for the old Runway 30.

It must be noted here that when applied to Runway 28, this is an inherently dangerous procedure. Meaning that if an aircraft departs closely behind another aircraft and does not observe the right turn on departure procedure, the first aircraft now on crosswind will pass directly across the later or second departing aircraft. This can be scary because not everyone is dedicated to the noise abatement procedure, either because of ignorance or they just plain don’t give a darn.

The departure for Runway 10 was modified to call for an early turn to crosswind to avoid flying over residences. While occasionally noise complaints are received from this area, there are far fewer complaints than off Runway 28. This whole process has taken about two decades to reach this state.

There are now preliminary considerations underway to extend Runway 10/28 by 1,000 feet. This has resulted in a flurry of concerns again. So here we go again with concerns about jet fighters and scheduled airline operations from a blacktop runway which would then be 5,000 feet long.

Now, on the other side of this there are problems with pilots who either are not aware of the noise abatement procedures or who just don’t care. These instances are rare, but when they occur, they just reinforce the emotional response of the complainers. There have been cases of people departing Runway 28, holding a low altitude to build up speed and then rotating to climb at full power with the noise blasting at the houses west of the airport. Other aircraft have turned over the airport when taking off on Runway 10 to fly over a group of houses just off the northeast corner of the airport.

While the emphasis here has been on C29, a non-towered relatively busy airport, even those with private airstrips have problems, principally with pilots using their airstrips without permission causing noise issues. These private airstrips are usually in the country where life is generally quiet except for an occasional automobile and even less frequent farm equipment. Often and wisely, these owners have held discussions with their neighbors regarding the airstrip and the impact on them before they established the airport. Then when people use the airstrip to practice short-field or rough-field takeoffs and landings, the neighbors become irate because of the noise. This is frustrating for the airstrip owner, as well as the neighbor. It should be mentioned that some farm animals become extremely agitated when unusual noise or shadows that could be a hawk are encountered. That includes some fowl and mink in particular.

Recognize that the attitude of the neighbors to both airport types is often not really based on logic, but rather on emotions and a lack of knowledge. Therefore, there is little to be gained by direct confrontation since that only reinforces emotions. The best approach is to be mindful of the concerns of neighbors and fly with courtesy and consideration. Confrontation only hardens positions and brings ego into the picture.

Most people are genuinely concerned and will listen to an objective and professional explanation from pilots and operators. Therefore, polite listening, coupled with reaction that shows that their concerns are being respected, is the best approach. Further, it behooves all of us to be aware of noise abatement procedures wherever we fly and to follow them. Usually these will be listed in the NOTAMS and chart supplements (AFD for us old-timers) for each public airport. If there are any concerns, and multiple landing and take-off operations are anticipated, call ahead to find out what procedures may exist and follow them. If just traveling through, it is probably not important to check ahead for your quiet landing, the path of which is usually dictated by physics, but do check before the noisy departure, even if you are flying a light sport aircraft. And for heaven’s sake, check with the owner of a private airstrip before using it. (In this case, there are legal and insurance issues you may want to consider as well.)

AOPA, EAA and the FAA all have advice and support for maintaining good neighbor relations and practices to help conserve airports. It is a good idea to become aware of these activities, and if you feel you can maintain your emotional equilibrium, become involved. In dealing with noise complaints, it is wise to remember that courtesy and consideration for others will go a long way toward keeping your airport active and out of the hands of the developers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Harold Green is an Instrument and Multi-Engine Instrument Instructor (CFII, MEII) at Morey Airplane Company in Middleton, Wisconsin (C29). A flight instructor since 1976, Green was named “Flight Instructor of the Year” by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011 and is a recipient of the “Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.” Questions, comments and suggestions for future topics are welcomed via email at harlgren@aol.com, or by telephone at 608-836-1711 (www.MoreyAirport.com).

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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