Airport Commission Discusses Noise Complaints

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–The Middleton Airport Commission chairman held out little hope for reduced airplane noise to neighbors of the Middleton Municipal Airport-Morey Field who frequently complain about low, loud flights over their homes.

“Airplanes will operate in this area, that’s just a fact I can’t apologize for. There’s not much anybody can do as long as pilots are operating legally,” Chairman John Hallick said during a commission meeting last week.

“All of us have busted altitude,” said Hallick, a pilot, explaining why some flights drop below approved elevations.

The city receives dozens of noise complaints monthly prompting the commission to review the online complaint form and locate the areas of concern. Gary Keyes, Town of Middleton, who spoke at the beginning of the meeting, made a typical comment about the overflight frequency and decibel level the planes create not being addressed in the complaint process.

“There’s a complete disregard for new neighborhoods. They’re in here and allowed to be in here…I think there should be a certain amount of respect. We don’t want to put up with the noise and the number of flights…Not only are they going to try to expand the airport but we’re also hoping at some point we can sit down and have some dialogue with people at the airport to make these people accountable for what they’re doing,” he said.

Mark Opitz, City Planning & Zoning Administrator and liaison to the commission, presented a map of July through December flight patterns superimposed over the locations of where air traffic complaints originated. The map indicated that the majority of complaints came from locations west of the main runway and the majority of the complaints originated from locations south of Airport Road.

Flight patterns weren’t mapped for the north-south grass runway, Greg Stern, a master plan consultant, said he didn’t know why they weren’t.

Hallick suggested adding the grass runway flight patterns and updating them on a quarterly basis.

The airport’s voluntary noise reduction procedures call for pilots to avoid low flights over residential areas. However, the approved flight pattern used by student pilots and pilots practicing “touch and go” maneuvers repeatedly put aircraft in patterns that circle the same residential areas.

The noise abatement procedures were amended last year in an attempt to lessen residential overflights, but complaints continued as the airport master plan process drew more attention to airport matters, the pandemic kept more residents at home during the day, and the city attempted to streamline the complaint reporting system.

The commission revisited the complaint process again last week to determine if the online form is designed to capture the information the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires to investigate a complaint and how to best capture it.

Commission Co-Chair Ald. Robert Burck suggested the form needed “streamlining” and rearranging the order of some of the questions necessary.

“People are starting to fill out the form but don’t always complete it. We need to move the mandatory fields to the top of the form from the bottom where it’s located now,” Burck said.

Opitz agreed that the mandatory information “didn’t stand out well,” on the form.

Hallick pointed out a dilemma, that while the FAA deems that location, time, date and aircraft as important information, the address of complainant isn’t always collected out of fear of retaliation against those making the complaint.

“But we need location information to make the complaint meaningful,” he said.

The time and location information of a low overflights also helps the airport manager to determine if the pilot was following the voluntary abatement procedures or not, Hallick said.

Proposed revisions to the complaint form would be put on the next commission agenda, Hallick said.

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