Naples airport runway extension brought more noise complaints, for a month

The authority extended the runway’s safety zones by 510 feet on the south end and 800 feet on the north end. This would increase the declared distance of the runway to 5,800 feet for takeoff, but it would remain 5,000 feet for landing.

— Paul Darrow cringes every time Friday rolls around and the rumble over his Westport Lane home increases.

Since the Naples Airport runway extension opened in mid-November, he said, it seems like the peaceful Golden Gate Estates neighborhood he's lived in for nearly 12 years has been disrupted by even more overhead noise — and weekends are the worst.

"It's like every five minutes, and they're pretty damn low," Darrow said angrily, adding that he'd hoped the runway extension would reduce noise. "It's ridiculous. The Mickey Mouse (small) planes don't bother me, but some are pretty large planes and I could pretty much hit them with a slingshot."

Darrow isn't alone.

Records show airport noise complaints to the hotline and online hit 54 in November, when the runway extension opened after four months of construction. Complaints usually hover at 15 monthly. They dropped to 15 in December and 16 in January, which is busy due to the Naples Winter Wine Festival. There were 45 complaints in January 2011.

Residents hoped the longer runway would mean higher approaches and less noise, but they say it hasn't happened.

"The noisiest time is during takeoff, when they have full power, and that's when they have a choice to fly over the bay," said Old Naples resident Alan Parker, manager of Citizens Against Runway Extension LLC. "It will never be quieter. Even though planes may get quieter over time, you're going to get more of them."

Naples Airport

500 Terminal Drive, Naples, FL

Parker contends noise complaint numbers are an inaccurate indication — most likely one or a few complainers — and most people don't have the time or knowledge for the complaint process.

Despite residents' beliefs, air traffic at the 68-year-old airport has dropped.

"This past year, we've had the least number of operations in the history of the airport," said Ted Soliday, the airport's executive director, adding that the economy has hurt small airports nationwide. "In December and January, we saw an increase for the first time, but that's just the little guys. February was really down."

Soliday maintains noise is down, although some residents argue the reduction is too small to perceive.

“Our statement is any reduction is a reduction,” he said, adding, “The people to the north are very pleased now they could see a reduction of the aircraft taking off.”

In 2005, when the airport hit capacity, takeoffs and landings numbered 163,434, but records show they dipped to 84,339 last year, a 48.4 percent drop in that time period.

The runway reopened Nov. 18; takeoffs and landings were down that month as construction concluded, totaling 7,533, a decrease from 7,944 in November 2010.

The Naples Airport Authority spent $3.2 million to extend the runway's safety zones by 510 feet on its south end and 800 feet on the north. That increased the length available for the ground run before takeoff to 5,800 feet; it remained at 5,000 feet for landings.

The controversial FAA-approved project prompted protests before Naples City Council voted 4-3 in March 2011 to allow it.

Still, noise is down dramatically from 1999, when the FAA banned the noisiest, Stage 1 jets. Two years later, less-noisy Stage 2 aircraft were banned, except for emergency operations and ambulances. Authority officials successfully fought to use a 60-decibel measurement. Studies of acceptable noise levels show jet takeoffs at large airports measure 180 decibels; a lawn mower, 90; and normal conversation, 60.

"Some of the worst-case scenarios may be in the 90s, but since we eliminated the Stage 1 and Stage 2 aircraft, we don't get much of that," Soliday said, noting most complaints come from neighborhoods under the center line, the preferred takeoff and landing route. "We have fewer operations in the airport in a full year than traffic on Airport and Radio roads on a weekend."

Jane and Duane Repp noticed a huge difference when they returned from Wisconsin to their Wyndemere home, northeast of the airport, before the runway reopened.

"It was beautiful silence for a whole month — and then back to normal, lots of noise with the landings," said Duane Repp, an airport Noise Compatibility Committee member.

Noise inside the house isn't bad, he said, but while on the phone on his lanai Friday afternoon, he had to tell the other party to stop talking because he couldn't hear.

"From 1:30 to 2:30, there was at least one landing every 10 minutes," he said.

"Weekends are the worst. If you're sitting outside, you can still hear the backthrust of the one landing on the ground with the one coming in," he said, disputing Soliday's contention that it's a one-time, loud and quick noise. "To me, that's continuous noise, not one-time noise."

Although there's talk of bringing in planes at a greater angle, not as flat and low, to reduce noise, he said that hasn't been done.

Soliday, who said the airport is working toward that, blames much of the noise problem on Southwest Florida International Airport traffic controllers trying to get Naples planes out of its airspace more quickly. In addition, he said, pilots don't wait to go to the end of the extension, which would reduce noise because aircraft could get up higher faster.

A parallel taxiway, planned for the next year or two, will reduce noise, Soliday said, adding, "We'll finish the job and do it the way we're supposed to do it — the way it should have been done."

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