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Noise concerns divide aviators, residents in Colorado

Pilots had to fight to have their voices heard at a community listening session in Colorado while residents rallied for airport restrictions because of concerns related to noise and fuel.

Photo courtesy of Brad Elliot.

More than 300 locals made up a standing-room-only crowd at the community center in Superior for the Colorado Aviation Community Noise Abatement Listening Session on October 23.

The state’s Attorney General Phil Weiser was in attendance to hear the concerns of disgruntled residents and pilots alike, joined on the listening panel by Colorado state Sen. Steve Fenberg (D-District 18), state Reps. Judy Amabile (D-District 49), Ruby Dixon (D-District 37), and Kyle Brown (D-District 12), as well as Joel Sayers, the organizer of the event.

Advertised as “a community conversation to hear and share thoughts on the impact of these airports on Front Range communities,” much of the conversation was dominated by dozens of passionate locals who spoke about their frustrations with the noise coming from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Denver. Anti-airport advocates requested a number of things ranging from landing fee impositions to reducing traffic levels, and imposing curfews on the airport. A sign in the crowd even called for the ban of touch-and-goes over residential areas.

High school student, private pilot, and AOPA scholarship recipient Makayla Galler was disheartened by a setting that “wasn’t conducive to open conversation.” She had hoped to gain insight into the perspectives of the frustrated residents who live near area airports. Instead, she found “the event was both chaotic and disappointing, doing little to advance the dialogue.”

“At the end of the meeting, a voice called out, ‘How many pilots are here?’ There were many of us, but regrettably, only a few pilots were allowed to speak and those who did were cussed at and booed,” Galler wrote on LinkedIn.

Tom McIntosh was one of the three pilots who fought to have their voices heard, compared to nearly 50 anti-airport residents who were given the opportunity to speak. He and several others had answered the call to action from AOPA for pilots to attend this listening session but were met with hostility and a lack of interest in the aviation community’s perspective.

“I got the distinct impression that they would really rather not hear our divergent viewpoint to their own,” said McIntosh. While he sympathizes with the plight of the residents, McIntosh highlighted the paper trail of letters from the airport dating back to 1986 that advised the city against building residences and schools in close proximity to the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport. The airport had been around for decades, and the city’s choice to ignore recommendations and build large residential and mixed-use, high-density development within both the airport “critical area” and underneath existing aircraft patterns and runway arrival and departure paths resulted in what the airport anticipated decades ago—noise and pollution complaints and lawsuits, all of which could have been avoided had the town of Superior taken land use recommendations seriously.

McIntosh said this outcome was predictable: “If you build a house next to an elementary school playground, you’re going to have kids making noise…and if you build your house next to an airport that’s already in existence, you’re going to have noise.”

While noise was the top topic of the night, a few community members also raised concerns about lead emissions from airplanes, a topic that the listening panel indicated will soon result in legislative action in Colorado. “Rep. Dixon and I have already been talking about a bill that will help to accelerate the transition toward unleaded fuel,” said Brown. “We will bring that bill this year.”

Getting the lead out of aviation is a top priority for aviation industry stakeholders. An October 18 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finding determined that emissions from piston-engine aircraft can be assumed to endanger public health. The final determination sets into motion rulemaking processes that will lead to a lead-free future, a goal that the general aviation industry already committed to achieve by 2030, and hopefully sooner, under the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions initiative.

Communities concerned about aircraft lead emissions should be assured that the industry is working tirelessly on a safe and smart transition to unleaded fuel. In the meantime, 100LL will remain available at airports for the safety of pilots and safety of the people and property they fly over.

A group of aviation industry associations, including AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the National Business Aviation Association, and the National Air Transportation Association, sent a letter to Weiser on October 19 to inform the attorney general on both the facts with respect to lead emissions and noise as well as state and national-level legal precedents on both topics in advance of the listening session.

The letter provided background information on GA and outlined current efforts by the aviation community to mitigate noise and lead emissions. It also reaffirmed the authority of the FAA to regulate airport noise and aircraft emissions.

“The aviation community strives to enable airports to coexist harmoniously with the local community. When concerns arise regarding aircraft noise, emissions and flight paths, it’s vital to remember that these areas are subject to federal preemption,” the letter states. “It is essential to strike a balance between community concerns and legal safeguards that enable our national aviation infrastructure, including airports across the Front Range, to serve our country’s transportation needs.”

AOPA is committed to maintaining the freedom to fly for aviators across the nation. A visible pro-airport/pro-aviation contingent, like the pilots who stood at the Colorado listening session, is critical to ensuring that vocal anti-airport contingents do not have undue influence on public officials as those officials consider the best ways to maintain the delicate balance between community interests and the operating rights of airports and pilots under FAA policy.

Lillian Geil
Communications Specialist
Communications Specialist Lillian Geil is a student pilot and a graduate of Columbia University who joined AOPA in 2021.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, State Legislation

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