Airport noise causes a buzz
A group of Spanish Hills residents upset by the early morning and late-night noise created by airplanes at the Camarillio Airport were told by the City Council that federal law kept the city from forcing private jet charter companies from changing the hours of loud plane maintenance and use.
The complaints filed by Spanish Hills residents—who asked not be named—led the City Council to conduct a study in June to measure the amount of noise the planes at the airport create and to also determine what legal actions the council could take if the planes were too loud.
The results were presented at the council’s regular meeting July 11. The study showed that although the planes created noise above what’s allowed in Camarillo and conducted engine maintenance late at night, the city cannot ask the airlines to curtail engine tests before midnight.
The study was done by Michael Brown from Cadence Environmental Consultant, a Camarillobased firm that specializes in environmental noise analysis.
The company recorded noise decibels inside one Spanish Hills home and outside another.
Decibels are used to measure the volume of a sound. A quiet room has a decibel level of about 40. A jet aircraft, from about 50 feet away, has a decibel level of 140.
Residents were most upset with the late-night and early morning testing of the planes owned by Avantair Elite Service, a Camarillobased charter plane company.
The high-pitched noises were due to engine tests on the company’s Piaggio P-180 planes, a passenger plane with two large propellers outside of the aircraft.
“We measured the ambient noise and the intrusive noise (from the plane) to see if it might be exceeding the standards,” Brown said.
Avantair worked with the city during the noise testing and revved the plane’s engines from multiple directions and three locations at the Camarillo Airport.
Brown tested noise levels inside the sample home after 9 p.m. and found the plane’s noise didn’t exceed the noise ordinance.
“We left three windows open in the bedroom to mimic what it would be like for the residents to sleep during the summer season,” Brown said.
Residents said even though the plane’s noise didn’t break the decibel level, it is loud enough to wake them at night.
Brown said his goal was to study whether the noise exceeded allowed decibel levels, not whether the noise was noticeable.
“Just because you can pick out a noise doesn’t mean it’s loud,” Brown said.
Brown also tested outside of a home and the average noise level hit 49.5 decibels, which broke the city’s outside noise ordinance of 45 decibels.
Even though the noise level broke the city’s noise ordinance, it didn’t break the law.
Brian Pierik, the city’s attorney, said a federal law which allows Avantair to perform maintenance testing until midnight trumped the local noise ordinance.
Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act in 1990 to stop cities from enforcing local noise ordinances.
Camarillo Airport passed its midnight to 5 a.m. ordinance in the 1970s and it was grandfathered in the federal noise act.
Ian Gregor from the Federal Aviation Administration said when the noise act was enacted, it also established a process called “Part 161” which allows local governments to conduct noise studies that could lead the administration to expand special noise ordinances for stage-three aircraft, the noisiest type of plane, such as the planes used by Avantair.
The study has to prove that the new noise ordinance would not burden state or foreign commerce and that the restriction is reasonable and nondiscriminatory.
“It’s a very robust and in-depth study that takes time and money to accomplish,” said Todd Mc- Namee, Camarillo and Oxnard’s airport director.
Residents near Burbank Airport called for an overnight noise curfew in 2002 that would extend the takeoff and noise curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The local airport authority paid $4 million for the three-year study but the federal administration denied the extended curfew hours.
Gregor said the administration has never approved extended curfews for stage-three aircraft requested by residents, cities, or other government agencies.
The Camarillo City Council’s study left the residents frustrated and with only one option—to request that Avantair not test its planes between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Backed by federal law, Avantair apparently will not change its maintenance schedule to accommodate residents. Mario Molino, the local maintenance supervisor at Avantair who attended the study session, would not comment on the issue.
“We are trying to work with Avantair for voluntary measures but they’re not violating any ordinances,” McNamee said.
McNamee said his airport staff will continue to enforce the airport ordinance and that violators who take off or perform high-power maintenance runs between midnight and 5 a.m. will be fined between $100 and $200.
Residents who hear excessive noise during regulated hours should call the airport’s noise hotline at (805) 947-6804.