Noise Complaints Continue, Residents Say Airport Officials Aren’t Addressing Concerns

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–Residents affected by airplane noise continue to see Middleton Municipal Airport officials as unresponsive to their noise complaints, according to comments made last week at a Middleton Airport Commission meeting.

Cynthia Richson, a commission member and board chair of the Town of Middleton, said plane noise recently woke her three times between 2-3:30 a.m. 

“They may be (Med Flights) saving lives but there’s a lot of sleep deprivation caused by planes flying west of the airport,” she said.

The airport has a noise abatement program which directs pilots to avoid developed areas, but planes on instrument approach can fly as low as 400 feet above the ground.

“I’m in the noise abatement area and it isn’t working,” said a Meadowrue Circle resident.

“Planes fly low over my house on a daily basis, it’s every two minutes sometimes; over and over and over…I want it stopped. I don’t want (airport expansion)...I don’t like what we have now,” she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs aircraft operations after takeoff, preempting local authority, said Airport Manager Richard Morey.

Attendance at commission meetings has been boosted as air traffic has dramatically increased this year (according to area residents). Public engagement is also up because the city is developing an Airport Master Plan that could include a longer main runway and the construction of additional hangers. 

The city has responded to noise complaints by adding a complaint form to the city’s website and will install a sign on Airport Rd. with the complaint hotline phone number.

Airplane noise complaints received by the city are compiled but haven’t routinely been forwarded to the FAA when they may lack information identifying the aircraft which the FAA wants.

At the October commission meeting, Morey reported airport staff received eight complaints.

Additional complaints were received since then but most didn’t request being contacted, he said.

Air traffic controllers at Dane County Regional Airport may have the information on the offending aircraft but they may not release it to the public, said Airport Commission Chair John Hallick.

The city isn’t utilizing the authority the FAA gives over airplane noise, Richson said. Chapter 13 of the FAA Compliance Manual states that the airport sponsor is primarily responsible for taking action to reduce noise on residents of the surrounding area.

Actions include improvements in airport design, noise abatement ground procedures, land acquisition and restrictions in airport use that do not unjustly discriminate against any user, according to the FAA Airport Compliance Manual–Order 5190.6B.

There was no response from commission members to Richson’s remarks.

The noise problem stressed out an individual who recently came to the airport and confronted two pilots about low altitude flying, said Morey.

“The pilots said they were following instrument procedure, but you could hear the expletives and the individual stalked out. I will call the police if it happens again. I won’t tolerate it,” Morey said.

Town of Middleton resident, Joe Getty, said to expect more confrontations as more people are becoming concerned about airplane noise.

Morey believes pilots wouldn’t deliberately violate FAA flight regulations because they could lose their license. However, residents feel that pilots are acting with impunity because it’s difficult to identify the offending planes.

Although he defends the pilots, Morey “has no compassion for residents, impacted by airplane noise,” said Leslie Hayner, an organizer of Middleton Area Good Neighbors, a group opposed to airport expansion.

While Morey said FAA regulations govern airborne aircraft, Hallick said the FAA has an ombudsman that residents should contact to help them with their complaints. In the Great Lakes Region, which includes Wisconsin, the ombudsman is Rachel Bassler. She can be reached by email at 9-agl-noise@faa.gov, or phone at 847-294-8365.

The Airport Commission typically meets at 5 p.m. the first Thursday of the month, and most recently at Middleton City Hall.

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