What are the rules regarding how low an aircraft can fly over a residential area?

Aircraft altitude is established by Federal law. Title 14, Coder of Federal Regulations Section 91.119 which governs flight states: “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitude: Over any congested area of a city, town or settlement, or over any open-air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.”

It is important to be aware of two aspects of this regulation. First, most aircraft operating in the vicinity of the Santa Maria Public Airport (SMX) are in the process of landing or taking off, thus this regulation does not apply. Second, helicopters are specifically exempted from this Federal regulation.

Who is responsible for aircraft navigation?

Federal law gives the Pilot in Command (PIC) final authority and responsibility over how their aircraft is operated and flown. The PIC is responsible for flight safety.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) has authority over aircraft in flight. ATC formulates and enforces rules and regulations under which aircraft are operated. ATC ensures aircraft remain a safe distance from one another.

SMX has no control over how or where aircraft are flown. SMX assures the physical facilities of the Airport are safe for aircraft use.

How is aircraft noise measured?

Significant aircraft noise is defined in the state of California as Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL) 65 decibels (dB). CNEL is a measures of cumulative noise exposure over a 24-hour period, with adjustments to reflect the added intrusiveness of noise during certain times of the day.

What happens if an aircraft flies too low?

The Airport documents and researches all noise complaints received and will notify the FAA if a flight is found to violate FAA minimum altitude requirements. Generally, these types of serious safety infractions do not occur at SMX.

Can airports limit or ban private jets or any specific aircraft?

As required by the FAA under the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA) of 1990, aircraft access restrictions have the potential to violate the federal obligation to make the airport available for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination as required by Grant Assurance 22, Economic Nondiscrimination. FAA regulations prohibit the restriction of aircraft or air carrier operations at airports who receive federal funding.

FAA regulations include aircraft noise restrictions which phased out the loudest aircraft types. Title 14 Part 36 ensures the latest available safe and airworthy noise reduction technology is incorporated into aircraft design and enables the noise reductions offered by those technologies to be reflected in reductions of noise experienced by communities.

Aircraft noise is regulated through standards. These standards are set internationally and are applied when an aircraft is acquiring its airworthiness certification. The standard requires that the aircraft meet or fall below designated noise levels. For civil jet aircraft, there are four stages identified, with Stage 1 being the loudest and Stage 4 being the quietest. For helicopters, two different stages exist, Stage 1 and Stage 2. As with civil jet aircraft, Stage 2 is quieter than Stage 1.

The FAA has undertaken a phase out of older, noisier civil aircraft, resulting in some stages of aircraft no longer being in the fleet. Currently within the contiguous US, civil jet aircraft over 75,000 pounds maximum take-off weight must meet quieter Stage 3 and Stage 4 standards to fly. In addition, aircraft at or under 75,000 pounds maximum take- off weight must meet Stage 2, 3, or 4 standards to operate within the U.S. In addition, as of December 31, 2015, all civil jet aircraft, regardless of weight must meet Stage 3 or Stage 4 standard to fly within the contiguous U.S. Both Stage 1 and Stage 2 helicopters are allowed to fly within the U.S.

What about Government Aircraft? can they be sent to Vandeberg?

The FAA requirement is that the airport will make available all of the facilities of the airport developed with Federal financial assistance and all those usable for landing and takeoff of aircraft to the United States for use by Government aircraft in common with other aircraft at all times without charge, except, if the use by Government aircraft is substantial, charge may be made for a reasonable share, proportional to such use, for the cost of operating and maintaining the facilities used. Unless otherwise determined by the Secretary, or otherwise agreed to by the sponsor and the using agency, substantial use of an airport by Government aircraft will be considered to exist when operations of such aircraft are in excess of those which, in the opinion of the Secretary, would unduly interfere with use of the landing areas by other authorized aircraft, or during any calendar month that –

a. Five (5) or more Government aircraft are regularly based at the airport or on land adjacent thereto; or

b. The total number of movements (counting each landing as a movement) of Government aircraft is 300 or more, or the gross accumulative weight of Government aircraft using the airport (the total movement of Government aircraft multiplied by gross weights of such aircraft) is in excess of five million pounds.

Air traffic controllers should direct pilots to proper approach path. How does ATC communicate Noise Abatement Procedures?

Noise Abatement Procedure information is routinely available for pilots from Air Traffic Control (ATC) on the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) recording, which pilots are required to review prior to arrival at SMX.

SMX Noise abatement procedure reminders are available for pilots in the airfield near runways, and in FAA published airport chart supplements that pilots may review prior to operating at SMX.

All aircraft operators landing at SMX who have not flown a voluntary noise abatement    

procedure on arrival is provided education on the noise abatement procedures and requested to fly these procedures during future flights whenever safety allows.

My concern really isn’t noise, it’s safety. Who should I contact?

Specific safety complaints should be filed with the Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards District Office at (818) 267-3300.

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