As neighbors of the Centennial Airport continue to express outrage over noise, airport officials are taking new steps to urge participation from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, to address the problems.
For months, residents have been attending meetings to raise concerns about increased air traffic, noise and lead pollution impacting the community, specifically those living north of Arapahoe Road. Some even formed a group, Quiet Skies Over Arapahoe County, to advocate for changes to be made to address safety and noise concerns at Centennial Airport.
With the airport announcing the kickoff of unleaded fuel availability on May 3, that night’s community noise roundtable (CACNR) gathering focused mainly on frustrations regarding noise and the lack of solution from both the FAA and airport officials.
Pressuring the FAA
For the third month in a row, no representatives from the FAA attended the meeting either virtually or in-person.
“(The FAA) lied to us … when they said ‘We're going to be your best friends. You're going to see more of us than you ever wanted to,’ something along those lines,’” Greenwood Village resident James Slaggert said at the May 3 meeting. “Where are they? They're nowhere to be to be found. So they are not our friends.”
The FAA did, however, send a written response to 31 questions submitted by Centennial Airport CEO Mike Fronapfel and Audra Dubler, a leader of Quiet Skies Over Arapahoe County. These answers can be found in the May meeting packet of the airport community noise roundtable.
The nine-page response to the questions was not enough for CACNR Chair Brad Pierce.
“To be honest, I didn't feel the responses were satisfactory,” he said.
In an effort to get more FAA participation, roundtable members agreed to send a letter to Rep. Jason Crow, Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. John Hickenlooper requesting their direct action to motivate the FAA to participate in a sub-roundtable technical working group.
At its March 1 meeting, the roundtable formed this group to explore solutions to the “extended traffic pattern issue” with a small group of experts and representatives from the roundtable, airport, flight schools and the FAA.
As of the roundtable’s April 10 letter to the lawmakers, the FAA had not agreed to participate in the technical working group nor assigned technical experts to assist.
“I want to echo your frustration with the FAA not being present at our meetings,” Fronapfel responded to public commenters. “We share your frustration.”
“There have been technical committees both at (the Los Angeles International Airport) and at (the San Francisco International Airport) that have been put in place," he said. "The regional office of the FAA has been stonewalling us on that."
At the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority (ACPAA) meeting on May 11, officials announced they will also be hiring The Normandy Group, a lobbying and advocacy firm based in Washington D.C., to seek solutions to reduce airport noise in neighboring communities.
The contract is from May through September, with extensions possible, at a rate of $7,500 per month.
While community members at both the roundtable and ACPAA meetings expressed gratitude for the work being done to involve the FAA, several community members expressed frustration at airport officials as well.
Their main frustration comes from mixed messages regarding the reason why more aircraft are flying over nearby neighborhoods.
“It doesn't feel to me like we're being told the truth about who is really making the decisions and who actually has the power in this situation,” said Greenwood Village resident Andrea Blackwelder.
Airport officials have said they think the FAA local control tower changed the way it managed the aircraft in the flight pattern after a mid-air collision in May 2021, resulting in the pattern getting extended more frequently over the community.
FAA officials, however, have said there has not been a change in the pattern. Instead, they point to increased aircraft volume in the traffic pattern as the main culprit.
Meanwhile, the airport and the FAA have presented conflicting data about whether or not there are more aircraft in the traffic pattern.
“The FAA, in all their answers back to the community, are saying that volume of flight schools are up,” Dubler said at the May 11 ACPAA meeting. “You're saying that they're down … Should I say it? Like somebody's lying? Or how come the numbers aren't matching?”
Dubler’s husband, Dave Dubler, said that while the airport and the FAA are pointing fingers, he thinks both increased traffic and an extended pattern are contributing to the issue.
“You put both of those situations together, and you have a devastating problem,” he said at the May 2 CACNR meeting. “So please don't pin it all on the FAA and their traffic pattern change. It’s volume that the airport is also bringing in and it needs to stop. I'm sorry — new hangars, new towers, money for beer gardens — it's only going to encourage more traffic.”
In response to comments about this discrepancy, Arapahoe County Commissioner Jessica Campbell-Swanson, who is on the ACPAA, said even she and the other members feel stuck and confused on how to solve the problem.
She said changing operations at the airport can be challenging due to grant limitations from the FAA, but she is hopeful they can keep looking for solutions from the airport and the FAA’s side.
“I do think and understand that our power is limited and we are hemmed in — it doesn't mean we don't have any, but we have to be tactful in how we go about investigating it,” she said.
The FAA is currently in the midst of a national public comment period on their noise policy review. Information on virtual webinars and how to comment are available at https://www.faa.gov/newsroom/faa-opens-public-comment-period-noise-policy-review. The public comment period will be open until July 31.