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Cupertino Study Session to discuss Aircraft Noise

The Cupertino City Council held a Study Session on December 6, 2016 at Community Hall to discuss aircraft noise. Several community members expressed their concerns with increased airplane traffic over their neighborhood and resulting noise. Representatives from Congressman Mike Honda’s Office and Council Member Mary Lynne Bernald of Saratoga were in attendance. View the full recording of the meeting and related material here

Issues Identified
Three separate issues have been identified as contributors to increased air traffic over Sunnyvale, some of which impact parts of Cupertino.

  1. Surf Air. Commuter airline Surf Air received approval from the FAA to test a new route, known as the Bayside Visual Approach, into the San Carlos Airport for six months, from July 5th, 2016 to January 5th, 2017. Unfortunately, the cities impacted were not notified and given an opportunity to comment on the proposed route. This route takes flights toward Moffett Field, over the Bay, and towards San Carlos Airport (SQL). While the main changes to the flight path occur outside of Cupertino’s borders, already existing flight paths over Cupertino may have received more noise due to increased air traffic in July when the number of Surf Air flights into SQL peaked at around 22 flights per day. After July, the number of flights per day decreased to normal levels of about 18-20 flights per day. In August 2016 the Mercury News published an article on the increased noise over Sunnyvale. After January 5th, 2017, the Bayside Visual Approach will not be used until the FAA evaluates the the new approach.
  2. NextGen. NextGen is an encompassing term for the ongoing, wide-ranging transformation of the US national airspace system which has sometimes been described as an evolution from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management. This new system allows for more direct flight paths, increasing traffic flow with a higher concentration of flights within a narrow flight path. As part of the NextGen initiative, nearby airports have adjusted some of their flight paths which may be causing additional air traffic over Cupertino.  For example, flights into SFO transitioned from the 30-year-old BIGSUR/BSR arrival ground track to a new arrival ground track called SERFR that is slightly more eastward than its predecessor and closer to Cupertino. For more information, visit NextGen.
  3. South Flow and Weather Conditions. Poor weather conditions such as high winds have increased “south flow” operations for the Mineta San Jose Airport. During such events, the prevailing winds change directions and incoming flights are rerouted for a southbound approach, which can result in increased air traffic over parts of Cupertino.

Meeting With Congressman Ro Khanna

On January 15th, 2017, former Councilmember Vaidhyanathan and Cupertino staff met with Congressman Ro Khanna to discuss the aircraft noise concerns of the Cupertino community. After hearing the feedback and requests from residents, Congressman Khanna agreed to support the following efforts:

  • Assist residents with FAA information requests
  • Request Cupertino representation at the Bayside Visual Approach review meeting
  • Form an ad hoc committee to conduct a study on the aircraft noise issue in the Cupertino/Sunnyvale area
On March 22, 2017, Congressman Khanna's district staff coordinated a regional meeting with the cities of Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and San Jose.  The meeting was an opportunity for local officials to meet Dennis Roberts, the new Regional Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Western-Pacific Region and begin discussions about concerns with noise levels when SJC is flying in south flow. As the authority to control aircraft in flight and on the ground is vested exclusively in the FAA, the City requested Congressman Khanna’s Office to take the lead on this issue for the district. The Congressman’s office provided a summary of the meeting, including the proposed path forward for addressing this issue.   As a follow up, Congressman Khanna sent a letter to Mr. Roberts on April 18th on behalf of the jurisdictions represented at the meeting requesting that he and his staff:
  • Help develop modified procedures that meet FAA standards to decrease aircraft noise for residential properties under the current SJC south flow procedure route.
  • Participate in a public event where citizens can learn the details of the issue and what is being done about it.
Proposed Flight Restrictions & Curfews at San Carlos Airport

The County of San Mateo plans to consider noise abatement solutions regarding the San Carlos Airport (SQL) in July.  As part of their efforts, the Board of Supervisors is considering restricting the number of flights in and out of SQL as well as imposing an evening curfew for some aircraft, prohibiting flights between 9pm and 6am.  San Mateo County also requested that the FAA adopt the Bayside Visual Approach (BVA) at SQL for all flight arrivals. Comments regarding the proposed ordinance should be sent to:

San Mateo County  held community meetings on May 18, 2017, August 2, 2017, and November 8, 2017 to discuss noise abatement at SQL. The presentations are posted online here.  For additional information about the Public Workshop, please visit the San Carlos Airport Part 150 Noise Study website at or contact the San Carlos Airport Office at 650.573.3700.

Select Committee

In August 2015, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address concerns about increased aircraft noise in Santa Clara County as well as requesting more robust community engagement when changing flight paths.

Following this resolution, in April 2016, U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and former U.S. Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) and formed the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, which has been working with local stakeholders to develop regional solutions to address aircraft noise.

On November 17, 2016 the Select Committee released a 27-page report with recommendations to Congress. The recommendations include:

  • Flying at higher altitudes
  • Flying over locations with fewer people
  • Avoiding noisy flight maneuvers
  • Implementing noise reduction retrofits where possible.

On May 17, 2017, Representatives Speier, Eshoo and Panetta issued a joint press release regarding the status of the FAA Response to these recommendations.  FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has received a draft response and is currently conducting a final review. The FAA will send their completed document to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for final review and authorization. It is unknown how long the DOT will take to authorize the release of the response.

While the City of Cupertino was not included in the Select Committee, we will continue monitoring the response of the FAA and engaging the appropriate authorities to express the concerns of our community.

Next Steps 

At the request of residents, the City created this webpage to keep residents informed of the aircraft noise issue and steps the City is taking such as engaging state legislators and the FAA. The City has also sent a letter to the FAA requesting them to deny the approval of the proposed Bayside Visual Approach (BVA). 

While the City does not have direct authority over air space, please be assured that we will work with regional agencies and federal representatives and authorities to mitigate the impact on our residents.