Santa Barbara City Council members discussed airport operations and noise concerns at a meeting Tuesday.
Santa Barbara City Council members discussed airport operations and noise concerns at a meeting Tuesday.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The success of the Santa Barbara Airport after a COVID-19 pandemic slump has revived concerns about flight noise and the growth of the terminal.

Interim Airport Director Brian D’Amour delivered a presentation Tuesday to the City Council about the status of the airport’s growth, redesign and future of the airport. There was no vote on any project. 

The airport is expanding its terminal, building a new parking garage, extending a taxiway and redesigning runways. The city is also in the process of updating its master plan, a process that is expected to last through 2023.

The master plan is designed to look at expansion for the next 20 years, including addressing noise concerns raised by Goleta residents. Even though the airport geographically is surrounded by the city of Goleta and an unincorporated portion of the county, Santa Barbara owns and operates the airport. 

“If we are talking about physical reconfiguration of the space to allow for what is already in place, fine, but anything more than that I really, truly believe we are at capacity,” said councilwoman Kristen Sneddon. “I think we need to be more careful about what expansion means.”

D’Amour said that the Federal Aviation Administration regulates times of takeoff and flight hours and that the city has little control. D’Amour said there’s a complex process for airport owners to apply to the FAA to have more local control, and often those applications are denied.

The FAA’s Airport Noise and Capacity Act prohibits airports from imposing limitations or violations, including curfews, on any aircraft, aircraft operator or airline.

The Santa Barbara Airport is open 24/7 for commercial and general aviation use, as required by the FAA. Goleta residents often hear flights take off as early as 5:30 a.m.

Santa Barbara plans public hearings this fall to discuss the concerns of Goleta residents about airport noise and expansion issues. 

“Operations at the Santa Barbara Airport do have an outsized influence on the city of Goleta and its residents, since the city of Goleta is almost entirely located in the airport influence area,” said Peter Imhoff, environment and planning director for Goleta. “Aircraft noise continues to be a major concern for Goletans.”

Imhoff said the problem is getting worse especially after the uptick in flights and passengers. 

He said he wants to have a conversation about flight patterns being moved over the ocean, rather than over Goleta, and limit hours. 

As Noozhawk reported last year, the city has a voluntary noise abatement program, but the flight patterns over the ocean are not always followed by pilots. 

Councilman Mike Jordan said he lives on the Mesa and sees planes overhead, over the ocean, high up in the sky, and so close that he can read the numbers on the plane. He said there’s a huge variance in how pilots fly their plane.

“The pilot is the sole arbiter of the safe operation of his or her aircraft and the FAA direction from the tower or instrument approaches is, strictly speaking, advisory,” said Andrew Bermond, facilities manager at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Just like drivers can decide their routes on streets, pilots can choose their paths, he said. 

Sneddon said she would like to limit early and late-night flights. 

“I would really like these flight patterns to go over the ocean,” she said. 

Councilman Eric Friedman said it’s important to work with Goleta and the community.

“We are committed to regional collaboration on the issues,” he said. “None of our cities or unincorporated areas operate in a vacuum.”

D’Amour said Santa Barbara is considered a “small hub” airport that is designed to offer a mix of general aviation and commercial aviation.

“It isn’t just the fixed-base operators working with their corporate jets, but it is also the local Santa Barbara resident who’s got his own plane, stored in a city T-hangar,” D’Amore said. “And of course, we want to have a strong, robust commercial aviation industry so that we can provide our residents with opportunities to travel.”

Goleta City Councilman James Kyriaco spoke at the meeting and acknowledged the good that the airport brings to the city of Goleta, in terms of opportunities for travel and spillover economic impact.

He asked that a public workshop on the airport expansion be rescheduled to October so that a member of the FAA could attend. 

“Let’s all make sure that we are on the same page, hearing the same story about what is and isn’t possible when it comes to noise,” Kyriaco said.

“What are the things within purview of local folks, what are the things only the domain and the jurisdiction of the FAA. I think if we all hear the same story, in the same room, at the same time, a lot of these issues of what we can and can’t do, would really be alleviated.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.