What’s That Noise? FAA Allows Low-Flying Jets over San Juan

                                                                     Guest Column
                                                                     By Donna Fleming

Recently, I read an article in the OC Register about the FAA approval of a modified flight path for jet planes over South Orange County. I then read the Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) prepared for the FAA that justifies this route change. The report states, “no impact to residents,” which is untrue; the low flying jets are roaring in off the coast, right over my home and probably yours too. But much worse, the EIR did not cover impacts to wild life, which is beyond negligent. The new flight path for low flying planes at 4,500 – 7,000 feet through San Juan Capistrano air space is a blunder of epic proportions.

FAA map shows modified flight path which allows low-flying jets over San Juan.
Map credit: Todd Spitzer, OC Supervisor, Third District

In addition to the dismissing the noise created by low-flying jets over our historic town, whoever prepared the EIR apparently does not consider a downed plane due to bird strikes an impact to people, or to wild life.

Every year San Juan Capistrano becomes the summer home to thousands of Swallows. The Swallows have been migrating to San Juan Capistrano for over 200 years and yet, someone in an office neglected to study the effects of low flying jet planes through migrating and homing swallows. The famous Cliff Swallows fly from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano every year, at an altitude of approximately 6,600 feet and arriving around March 19th. The old Mission rings the bells. Thousands of visitors come to San Juan Capistrano to witness the migration of the famous Capistrano Swallows. Many people consider it a miracle. How do thousands of birds continue to fly to the old Mission San Juan Capistrano every year? Their flight takes about thirty days and they do it every year. Songs have been written about the return of the swallows. Richard Henry Dana mentioned the swallows in his novel, “Two Years before the Mast” which was published in 1840 and yet, the FAA has ignored the fact that SJC is the home to thousands of migratory swallows every year.

Swallows are covered under the migratory bird act and the new flight path poses a threat to arriving jets from bird strikes. For the FAA to make an arbitrary decision based on a slipshod EIR report created to expand their flight path, is negligent and injudicious. I would think that Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, would take the time to actually read the EIR report which omitted wild life, possible bird strikes, and the incredible impact to both the residents and the migrating swallows of San Juan Capistrano.

 The FAA and their poorly researched EIR, whether intentional or not, have created an irresponsible situation in the airspace over San Juan Capistrano. The noise is constant and unpleasant, and low flying planes and migrating birds are a recipe for a disaster movie.

Don’t bother complaining to the “Access/Noise Specialist” for John Wayne Airport, whose job description includes responding to complaints about noise. Her response to my complaint was; “…. As you may be aware, the FAA has exclusive regulatory jurisdiction over flight paths, and the pilot-in-command of each aircraft is responsible for safely maneuvering the aircraft in accordance with FAA airspace procedures. The County of Orange, as the airport proprietor, has no authority or control over aircraft in flight. In addition, issues relating to wildlife are outside the purview of this office. Your comments will be logged into our system.” In other words, ‘It’s not my job’ (even though it is in her job description).

James Dinwiddie, policy advisor to Fifth District OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, defended the Access/Noise Specialist at John Wayne Airport, by stating the following; “As Ms. [Bonnie] Frisch of the JWA Access and Noise office stated, unfortunately the Supervisor, John Wayne Airport, and the County of Orange have no jurisdiction to change or control flight paths of aircraft in flight. As you’re aware, the Federal Aviation Administration has exclusive jurisdiction over this. Ms. Frisch and those in the Access and Noise office respond to complaints and requests for information, however they can only provide answers to questions that are within their purview.” Mr. Dinwiddie however, did not address Ms. Frisch’s failure to provide any response besides “We have no authority… your comments will be logged into our system…” Frisch also failed to say what, if anything, is done with those “logged” complaints.

 Unlike Ms. Frisch, Mr. Dinwiddie did provide an avenue for complaints. He recommended that complaints be directed to the local FAA Long Beach Flight Standards District Office via phone at (562) 420-1755, or via email through their website at: https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/field_offices/fsdo/lgb/contact/.   

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, whose job is to protect residents in her district, can be reached at: Lisa.Bartlett@ocgov.info .

Donna Fleming worked as a technical writer before moving to San Juan Capistrano in 1999 with her three children, who graduated from San Juan Capistrano. Donna published her first novel in 2013, “Hard Times in Red Grape”, which was selected by a college history professor as a class assignment in protest literature. Donna, a longtime community advocate, is currently working on her second novel.   

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