What Happened

On March 5, 2015, the FAA activated the first phase of the “NextGen” air traffic control system in the bay area.

Within a few hours, the noise abatement office at SFO was unable to handle the volume of calls.

Within a few days, the number of complaints at the SFO web site went up by a factor of 100 (and did so again since then!)

Within a few weeks, residents were mobilizing, spearheaded by organizations such as Save our Skies Santa Cruz.

Within a few months, citizen projects such as jet noise reporting, noise monitoring, and air traffic monitoring were created.

Clearly, something about the switch-over to the NextGen system did not go as planned….

So what went wrong?

The answer is, to our great relief: “nothing that can’t be fixed“.

The FAA has made a number of changes that were perceived to be harmless, but in fact had a devastating effect on the communities, and caused a large amount of heartache to residents. It’s important to stress that in the global scheme of things, those changes that caused the most amount of grief are insignificant to the FAA. This is part of why there were thought to be harmless, but as it turned out, changes that are insignificant to airplanes flying at 250 knots are very significant to the people below.

The good news is that the FAA has heard the outcry (Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the congressional offices of Rep. Eshoo and Farr) and is willing to consider fixes, including a re-creation, to the greatest possible extent, of the flight procedures that existed before the NextGen change-over, plus added mitigations where possible.

We have been working on exactly that: Proposing modification to the new “NextGen” procedures that recreate the environment that existed before March 5, 2015, and where possible, improve upon it.

To learn more about us, please visit our Mission Statement page and our Team page.

Back to BSR

On November 17, 2016, the Select Committee for South Bay Arrivals voted 8:4 to return the flight path of SFO southern arrivals to the legacy BSR path, thus rejecting (retroactively) the unilateral move to SERFR which the FAA enacted on March 5, 2015.

The vote became part of the overall Select Committee recommendation, which was forwarded to the head of the FAA, Michael P. Huerta, by the congressional offices of Rep. Eshoo, Farr and Speier.

The SERFR/BSR decision was the main focus of the agenda, since some advocacy groups opposed returning to the old route, out of fear that SERFR’s other deficiencies will not be corrected.

Below are the foundations for the vote, and its “source of authority”.

1. The Select Committee was the proper body to decide this issue

The Select Committee was formed in response to the UNILATERAL ACTION by the FAA which created SERFR without proper public notice or input.
The Select Committee was formed by the congressional offices of Rep. Eshoo, Farr, and Speier, with consent and cooperation from the FAA, and consisted of twelve local officials, four from each of three affected counties – San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. (Including one vote each for the city of Santa Cruz and for District 5.)

The Select Committee HAD to be a regional body since the effects of NextGen-related changes extended over the entire area, and because the flight paths are interdependent. If each city/county simply barricaded itself strictly behind its own interests, we’d get immediate deadlock and nothing would ever get resolved.

The Select Committee spent six months working on this issue with the FAA providing technical expertise. The public were afforded multiple opportunities to voice their concerns and opinions throughout the process, and hundreds of witness accounts and opinions were heard. Working with all stakeholders, the Select Committee eventually made an informed decision.

Early in the process, correctly anticipating an eventuality that a unanimous vote might not be achieved on some topics, the Select Committee decided that if a motion received an 8 vote super-majority, with at least one vote from each county, then the recommendation would be considered as having passed the “consensus threshold” and constitute a formal recommendation.

Video clip of the “Consensus” decision, with comments by councilmember Don Lane: [3:13]

Actually, even the requirement for 8 votes was an undue burden. A consensus makes sense when the choice is between “action” and “do nothing”, following the principle of “do no harm”. But here, even if we forget history and the fact that the track should never have been moved, it’s a choice between route A and route B. Why should one route require 8 votes and the other only 5? We ended up getting 8 (a 2/3 vote!), but just sayin’ – 7 should have been enough.

2. The “Punt” option can’t happen.

The idea of an FAA-driven criteria-based decision, a.k.a. “punt”, was discussed in the Select Committee, went up for a vote, and failed to get even 6 votes, not to mention the required 8.
The reason is that no objective and meaningful criteria exists for aggregating the impact to people along an entire route. How do you weigh and combine a low-impact situation over a large group of people with a high-impact situation over a small group of people, mixed in with very different ambient noise levels, and incorporating the fact that moving legacy routes upends people’s life decisions to make their homes in a place that is away from a flight path? There is no such formula.

The FAA specifically stated they can’t do that, for exactly these reasons. The choice of route had to be made by the Select Committee, which could fairly and intelligently assess the details of the regional situation and do the right thing. This is why they voted down the “Don Lane Amendment” that called for a criteria-based process that simply couldn’t work.

FAA’s Steve May explaining the problem with calculating “total noise impact over a route”: [3:02]

The Select Committee voting down Don Lane’s “Criteria Only” amendment (later in the same meeting): [0:46]

3. The flight path SHOULD and CAN go back.

The move from BSR to SERFR was made UNILATERALLY by the FAA without public discussion or input, and so the default action for local government is clearly to reject the move. Moving flight paths like this is “the root of all evil”, since legacy noise patterns influence how communities grow. There may be some “winners”, but from a regional perspective, the negative consequences are much more severe.
Since in this case SERFR also had additional problems (stemming from the Class B problem, and from the location of high-elevation communities) everyone agreed that these problems need to be solved together with the move back. Our slogan for this was “If it doesn’t go up, it doesn’t go back”.

However, making sure that SERFR’s problems do not transfer to the restored BSR procedure (DAVYJ) is not the same as providing a 100% guarantee that the post-return procedure will be “exactly the same as” the old BSR procedure. Such a guarantee is impossible, simply because guarantees are by their very nature, conservative.

The new DAVYJ procedure should be even better than BSR (because of comparable altitudes and the use of OPD), but this cannot be guaranteed – just predicted.

What CAN be guaranteed is that the problems of SERFR are understood and fixed in DAVYJ. DAVYJ crosses the Santa Cruz coastline at essentially the same altitude as BSR did, uses idle-power flight at least as often as BSR did, uses the same noise abatement ground track that BSR used, and its simulation shows the same low noise level even when using “conservative” assumptions.

FAA’s Glen Martin describing the analysis of BSR vs. DAVYJ: [1:16]

Mayor Donna Lind confirming that she’d heard it right: [0:40]

Issues next to MENLO are unrelated to the ground track, will be the same no matter which flight track is chosen, and are not even related to NextGen.

Therefore – it SHOULD go back, it CAN go back, and that’s why the Select Committee voted for it to go back..

4. Because BSR is a better track than SERFR.

The comparison above (DAVYJ vs. BSR) is the only one that should matter, since once DAVYJ is shown to be equivalent to BSR, the wrong of shifting the flight track can be reversed. However, people that believe in the flawed “TPA-Based” thinking that says that flight paths should be shifted to overfly smaller communities – they try to argue that shifting traffic to SERFR is actually a good thing. For them, the comparison below – SERFR vs. DAVYJ – should put the argument to rest. Even if you support TPA based thinking, DAVYJ is the correct decision.

Even without bringing into account where people live, the noise signature of SERFR extends further south than that of BSR.

FAA’s Glen Martin describing the impact on the ground of Notional DAVYJ vs. OPD (“Raise-in-place”) SERFR: [1:18]

This difference was shown again in recent FAA slides – the impact over the SERFR ground track extends further south. This is because highways 17 and 35 follow a ridge, whereas highway 9, up until Castle Rock state park, follows a valley. (SLV)

More important though, if we consider where people live and at what elevations, we see that where ground elevations are high, and flight altitudes are low – BSR clearly avoids population centers. (High impact zones shown in yellow.) Standing at Mt. McPherson right under the BSR crossing and looking southward towards the ocean really drives this point home. We recommend it.

In the maps below, BSR/DAVYJ is the green line, and SERFR is the faint blue line.


In fact, BSR remains roughly equidistant from the Highway 9 and Highway 17/35 communities, crossing Mt. Hermon Rd. halfway between Felton and Scotts Valley, over the Hermon Quarries. It only directly overflies population centers south of Loch Lomond and the Quarries, at well over 10,000′, where we know from history that idle-power flight is a non-issue. However, we also know that at 5000′ overhead, as is the case of SERFR over Summit, even OPD flight is unacceptably noisy.

In the map below, communities above 2000′ are shaded in pink, and those above 1000′ are shaded in orange. Further, flight altitude decrease from 12,500′ near the bottom of the map, to below 8000′ at the top of the map, so that “above-ground-level” flight altitudes decrease from about 12,000′ near the coastline to about 5000′ at the summit.


Quick Scroll Program:

  1. OPD: The Movie! (5:09)
  2. OPD: The Sequel! (3:06)
  3. The Skies over Los Altos (9:11)
  4. The Skies over Portola Valley (7:22)

Enjoy the show!

OPD: The Movie!

Everything you wanted to know about OPD but were afraid to ask.

What is OPD? How does it relate to BIG SUR and SERFR? How does it relate to Class B airspace?


OPD2: The Sequel!

OPD: The Movie! showed you how we got here.

OPD: The Sequel! shows you how we get out of here.


The Skies over Los Altos

This video presentation summarizes what we understand about air traffic over Los Altos.  We chose Los Altos first, since it is centrally located, and is affected in a manner which has a “little bit of everything” in it.


The Skies over Portola Valley

This video presentation summarizes what we understand about air traffic over Portola Valley and Woodside.  Like Los Altos, this region is complex and is affected by multiple routes.


More Soon!