noise around Sedona
by† Paul† Chevalier
Chevalier is the Chairman of Sedonaís Art and Culture Commission.
He is a retired Senior Executive of a major retailer where
he was responsible for law and personnel. He holds a Degree
in Government from Columbia College, a Law Degree from Columbia
Law School and Business Degrees from both Columbia and Harvard
Aircraft are an
indispensable part of our world today.
With aircraft we
travel faster, transport our goods, provide emergency medical
support and defend our nation. Most of us understand the importance
of these things and so we are willing to tolerate aircraft
noise, but people have noise toleration limits. If some concerned
Sedona citizens have their way, the issue of how much aircraft
noise is acceptable in and around Sedona will soon be tested.
July, the Sedona Citizensí Noise Abatement Committee (SNAC),
an action oriented citizensí group, sponsored a mailing of
a Community Aircraft Sound Questionnaire. In this survey,
SNAC asked the roughly 15,000 people who live in the greater
Sedona (which includes the Village of Oak Creek) whether they
had a problem with aircraft noise and what kinds of aircraft
they thought were creating a noise problem.
The 1,479 responses
to this questionnaire, representing the views of at least
10 percent of the population, have been tallied. Half of the
respondents replied that they have no problem with aircraft
noise and half of the respondents replied that they do have
a problem with aircraft noise.
of the respondents stated that aircraft noise either stayed
the same or increased in the past year. Only 20 percent of
respondents said they thought aircraft noise had decreased.
The people who stated they do have a problem with aircraft
noise, and even some of those who said they didnít have a
problem with it, responded that the main aircraft noise problem
came from certain kinds of tour planes. Specifically, 748
respondents complained of helicopter noise and 538 respondents
complained of bi-plane noise.
I think the reason
there was such a large response to this questionnaire, was
that it was mailed at a time when a serious effort was underway
to gather support or opposition for replacing Sedona airport
with a regional airport outside of the City of Sedona. There
are many people who have a vested interest in maintaining
the Sedona airport: a) approximately 80 people work there;
b) there are five air-tour operations; c) more than 110 private
airplanes lease airport space; and d) other businesses on
the mesa are financially dependent on the existence of the
contains seven pages of comments by those who say they have
no problem with airport noise. Many of these comments focused
on support for the airport remaining on Sedonaís Table Top
Mesa and did not mention aircraft noise.
On the other side
of this issue are the people who object to the level of aircraft
noise in and around Sedona. Judging by their comments on the
questionnaire, many respondents are angry at what they see
as a lack of consideration by some pilots, particularly pilots
of tour aircraft, that regularly disturb their peace by flying
low and loud over homes and nearby national forest hiking
trails. There are 11 pages of comments by the respondents
who do have a complaint. Almost all of these comments are
about aircraft noise, but relatively few mention relocating
the airport as an option.
response makes it clear that there is insufficient public
support for building a regional airport. The idea of replacing
the current Sedona airport is no longer being given consideration
by any government entity of which I am aware. Sedona airport
employees, leasees and other friends of the airport can rest
easy on this issue.
else that is very important came out of this questionnaire.
The survey effectively ratified the views expressed by many
people in the recent past that our major aircraft noise problem
is caused by tour helicopters and bi-planes.
For years, the
Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has been successful in convincing
practically everyone in authority in our state, cities and
airport administrations that it has sole power over all issues
relating to flying aircraft. Unfortunately, the FAA has not
required that aircraft owners be sensitive to the effect that
the noise from their engines have on people on the ground
over which aircraft fly.
To its credit,
the FAA did issue an advisory bulletin in 1984 requesting
that aircraft fly no less than 2,000 feet above noise sensitive
areas such as national forest trails, schools, churches and
residential areas. But the FAA does not mandate compliance
with this bulletin, possibly because it doesnít feel it has
the authority to do so. The result has been that the advisory
is frequently ignored and many people in the United States
have been left with an unsolved aircraft noise problem.
People who live
in America do not willingly tolerate unsolved problems that
affect their peace. If the FAA canít or wonít solve this environmental
noise problem, then smart, determined people living in America
will take the initiative and solve it. We have some of those
folks in Sedona.
is, like most problems, there is more than one way that tour
air craft noise can be reduced to a tolerable level. I can
think of two ways to solve this problem. No doubt there are
other solutions. The first and best solution I can think of
is for ALL the air tour operators to do two things: a) comply
with the Sedona Airport Authority (SAA) noise abatement advisory
procedure described below and b) use aircraft equipped for
the SAA noise abatement advisory procedure urges all pilots
to: a) make no scenic flights below 6,500 feet (which is about
1,700 feet above the airportís Mesa); b) to climb, in so far
as possible, to the 6,500 feet level before leaving the skies
above the airport; c) to make no flights over the City of
Sedona; and d) to avoid departures between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
These are sensible
requests and, if complied with 100% by EVERY tour pilot, would
reduce the reasons for citizen complaint and reaction. Some
pilots do comply with some or all of this SAA advisory. Personally,
I have noticed that bi-planes are flying at higher altitudes.
Those that do not comply hurt the relationship for all the
air tour operators and the community. To comply with these
procedures, air tour operators will pay for additional fuel
because their pilots must fly higher and fly around the perimeter
of the City to avoid residential areas. No business likes
to add costs, but this cost should be considered a necessary
price to pay for the peace and health of a significant part
of our community. In the United States today, many businesses
incur costs for compliance with environmental concerns.
To solve this noise
problem, there is an additional action that I believe tour
operators of helicopters and bi-planes need to take. These
operators need to reduce the noise of the craft they fly.
Flying higher and
avoiding the City will substantially help solve the aircraft
noise problem within much of the City, but it does not solve
the noise problem over our national forest when the aircraft
tours fly outside the City limits. Expensive (very expensive
for helicopters) quiet technology for both helicopters and
bi-planes is available, but so is the possibility of switching
to alternative quieter tour aircraft, including gliders and
At the Sedona Airport
there are three helicopters and three bi-planes out of a total
of 16-tour aircraft. Clearly residents and tourists are not
insisting that they do their air sightseeing in helicopters
and bi-planes. If tour operators are going to solve this problem,
they need to either switch to quieter types of tour aircraft
or find a way to pay the cost of upgrading to quieter helicopters
and mechanical improvements to reduce noise in bi-planes.
Members of SNAC
are discussing a second option for solving this tour aircraft
noise problem. This option is to use the law to regulate aircraft
noise levels and to impose severe restrictions on tour aircraft
days and hours of operations.
There are aviation
law firms in America with ex-FAA attorneys as partners who
have been successful in helping communities and airports regulate
the noise level and hours of operation of tour aircraft. These
specialized law firms are keenly aware that the FAA derives
its authority under a section of the United States Constitution
that gives the federal government authority over interstate
commerce. But our Constitution does not give the FAA authority
over commerce solely within a state.
Court cases have
often blurred the distinction between interstate and intrastate
commerce, but they have not eliminated it. Both the Ninth
Circuit and the Second Circuit US Courts of Appeals have held,
respectively, that the Santa Monica, California, Airport Association
and the City of New York have a legal right to regulate tour
aircraft operations in a manner that reduces ground noise.
Sedona is located
within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,
which decided the Santa Monica case. Its decision is particularly
important to us as the Ninth Circuit is the highest federal
court in our country to which there is an automatic appeal
of a case from Sedona. There is no automatic appeal to the
US Supreme Court in this kind of case. If some unhappy party
were to appeal to the Supreme Court, I think it is highly
unlikely that the Supreme Court would consider this an important
enough matter to use its discretion to grant review.
In the two US Courts
of Appeals legal decisions just mentioned, some of the regulations
affecting tour aircraft that were held reasonable limited
or eliminated tour aircraft takeoffs and landings on weekends.
Based on these Courts of Appeals decisions, it seems to me
that aircraft noise regulation enacted by Yavapai County,
the SAA or even the City of Sedona have a good chance of withstanding
legal challenge, particularly if such challenge is defended
by one of the specialized aviation law firms. If similar regulations
are adopted here in Sedona, I think it would prove uneconomical
for most, if not all, Sedona tour aircraft to continue in
Adopting this kind
of regulation, in my opinion, should be reserved as a last
resort and should only occur if the tour operators as a group
are unwilling to accept some voluntary solution that will
reduce the aircraft noise to an acceptable decibel level on
the ground in residential and forest trail areas.
Air tour operators
should not act as if this kind of local regulation wonít happen.
They should not depend on the FAA as a shield. There are smart
and determined people in Sedona who are serious about having
these kinds of regulations implemented either through the
SAA or some other governmental body. I believe that unless
the tour operators take the initiative to solve the noise
problem that they have created, they may be regulated out
But it doesnít
have to be that way. This aircraft noise problem can be solved
without eliminating Sedonaís tour aircraft business - if the
Sedona air tour operators are willing to wisely and effectively
address this issue. I hope they do.†