The FAA’s Next Generation plan is changing the flight paths into some of our nation’s airports. It aims to reduce delays and save on fuel, but for some people, like Patrick Meyer, it’s making life miserable.
Meyer and his partner Jim just celebrated the day, eight years ago, when they found this house. Patrick remembers it vividly.
“I saw the open house. We came in, and ‘I went, oh my god, you don’t find places like this’. You know, it’s absolutely amazing,” says Meyer.
He’s standing on the back porch at the main house on this 19 acre property in the Santa Cruz Mountains. From here, a grassy meadow leads to a pool and then sweeping views of redwoods and the Monterey Bay.
Patrick says this house is their sanctuary and until recently, this porch has always been their living room. That’s where he’s sitting down with a couple of his neighbors including Barry Hoglund who lives just down the road.
“So my comment was. You used to have a nice place,” says Hoglund.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s really sad because we’ll be out here, it will be perfectly quiet like this an all the sudden this rumbling comes through, and it sounds like you are two blocks away from the airport,” says Meyer.
That rumbling is from commercial and cargo planes flying into San Francisco International Airport on a new flight path. The neighbors say it’s especially bad at on Friday nights and the weekend.
Still during an interview late Monday morning, they’re continually interrupted by planes flying overhead.
“There’s an anticipatory thing. When is the next one going to happen? When is the next one is going to happen? And then it’s almost like when something doesn’t happen, you know, you’re anticipating that it’s going to happen,” says David Austin who lives in Soquel.
Similar complaints have been heard across the country from New York to Phoenix and now here as the FAA rolls out its Next Generation program. Its transitioning from a ground based air traffic control system to a satellite system.
The switch gets rid of the old dispersed flight paths, in and out of airports like SFO, and condenses them into new more direct ones.
“Its benefits include improved safety and efficiency, and more direct and efficient routing that results in reduced fuel burn, which means reduced CO2 emissions,” says Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager, FAA Pacific Division.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in building out the NextGen system. In fact, we now have more satellite-based procedures in our skies nationwide than ground-based procedures,” he continues via email.
The FAA would not do a recorded interview for this story because its facing a lawsuits from people who say the skies above their homes have been turned in superhighways.
The Santa Cruz neighbors aren’t suing, but they did form a group called Save Our Skies Santa Cruz after planes started using this new flight path into SFO back in March.
“It came without any notice. None of us knew that this was going to happen in Santa Cruz County,” says Meyer who is the group’s Co-Chair. “We are trying to talk to the FAA, and the FAA is not talking to us.”
But that may change. Congressman Sam Farr who has been collecting complaints from residents on his web site, recently joined other representatives from the San Francisco Bay Area in a meeting with the head of the FAA, Michael Huerta.
“But I think we had the most substantive argument in that is that we found the group of citizens at the local level doing their research found that the technical advisory committee to the FAA suggested that they sustain the old route,” says Congressman Farr.
And he says just this week, the FAA has agreed to have a meeting with him and some Santa Cruz County residents and officials.
“They didn’t want to have this as a big town hall meeting because they’ve been sued, but they did agree to set up a hearing session. They haven’t set a date on that, but it’s a great victory even to get them to do that because they’re not doing that in other parts of the United States,” says Congressman Farr.
It’s a much needed victory for Patrick Meyer and his neighbors who are feeling uncertain about their futures.
“I guess I used to think I lived in the perfect spot. And now I think I live in a place I’m not even sure I like, and it happened like that. And it’s… torture,” says Barry Hoglund.
“It’s the first time we ever have thought about not living here and that’s just so, so devastating,” says Meyer.
Meyer says he’s hopeful about this meeting with the FAA. But if it nothing changes, Save Our Skies Santa Cruz wants the FAA to roll back the flight path change until an environmental impact report is complete and residents get a chance to have their voices heard.