Photo of San Diego airport with California Financial Alert graphic

Residents of homes close to San Diego International Airport may soon get some relief from noise after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded nearly $26 million to the airport to implement noise mitigation measures in the surrounding area.

The airport announced on September 28, 2021, that it had received a total of $25,978,156 in federal grants through the FAA, which will be allocated to the airport’s Quieter Home Program, which provides funding for sound insulation in order to mitigate the impact of airport-related noise on nearby homes. 

“The amount provided to the Airport Authority to conduct the Quieter Home Program is well above what we received last year and acknowledges the continuous hard work we’ve conducted during the pandemic,” said airport official Sjohnna Knack. “I encourage area residents to reach out for more information and see if they are eligible to benefit from the Quieter Home Program. Most of the funds support the local vendors, contractors, and staff which benefits our region.”

According to the Airport Authority, the goal of the Quieter Home Program is “to reduce the interior noise level within treated homes by at least five decibels.” In its work to get to this level, renovations include things such as retrofitting doors and windows and installing ventilation systems.

This isn’t the first time that a major sum has gone towards the program. In 2018, the airport received a total of $18,023,885 spread across two airport safety and infrastructure grants from the FAA in order to fund work through the Quieter Homes Program. At the time, the Airport Authority noted that it would be able to provide renovations for 200 to 400 homes during 2019.

According to San Diego’s KUSI, the cost of the renovation work done for the Quieter Homes Project is fairly significant, with costs stretching from $10,000 to $30,000 per home. Additionally, the costs of renovating larger or historic homes can sometimes be upwards of $100,000.

“The Program must also take into account the historical nature of each property it treats, which requires that the Program conduct an historical evaluation on all homes that apply for the Program,” officials stated.

The new funds are expected to benefit 400 to 500 homes per year, with numbers depending on the sizes and needs of the homes. Part of the grant will also benefit non-residential buildings, as part will go toward sound-mitigation renovations at church and preschool facilities in the area. 

Notably, the program will only fund renovation on homes constructed prior to October 1, 1998, as the FAA can’t approve federal funding for noise mitigation on homes newer than this.

The update from the FAA may also have an impact on where future construction in the city is taking place: Though officials noted that the federal government has no control over local land use, the FAA recommended that the San Diego Airport Authority continue to ask the city of San Diego to prohibit land use and new construction in areas that would be affected by their proximity to the airport.

Complaints may spur noise mitigation construction in other parts of the country

Though the San Diego Airport Authority has been taking concrete steps towards the renovations needed for fixing its noise issues, other airports in California and around the country may soon have to take similar action, as noise complaints have become a common part of living for many airport-adjacent residents.

This is becoming an especially impactful issue as the surge of COVID-19 vaccinations in summer 2021 brought with it an increase in plane travel. According to Aaron Keller, Airport Operations Manager for Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, the number of complaints received by the airport doubled from June 2021 to July 2021.

A similar issue arose for Florida’s Naples Municipal Airport in May 2021, with one resident noting that “This year has been worse” than others while the airport conducted a 12-month noise study.

According to Charlotte’s WSOC, 2020 saw the Charlotte Douglas International Airport receive 55,036 noise complaints. However, even in April 2021 that number had risen to at least 121,000 as residents set up a decibel-generated script in order to automatically generate complaints when noise got to a certain level, with the affected residents hoping to spur the airport authority into action. As per the report, just 31 homes filed 119,000 complaints.

As FAA regulations prohibit restrictions on flight patterns (in an attempt to help mitigate noise) for safety reasons, these complaints are making many airports look at addressing noise problems in a manner similar to how San Diego International has approached them.

“We have multiple people working on this, and it is taking the capacity that we have [to the point] where we may need to bring more bodies on board,” Keller said about Santa Barbara’s approach to the issues so far.

Brent Cangle, aviation director for the city of Charlotte, noted that airport expansions would likely bring more of these complaints and provide airports more reasons to look at alternatives as San Diego has, saying that “as long as we’re growing, I would expect more flights.”

Other airports are taking action after the pandemic ravaged flight patterns in 2020, seeking to see how changes are impacting noise and what can be done about it. Missoula, Montana’s Missoula County International Airport will also conduct a study of noise mitigation issues and look over its options after a rise in the number of complaints spurred new action.

“Everyone’s been very appreciative and happy about changes at the airport, but after a quiet COVID year with not much noise, the airlines threw in a lot of capacity this year,” airport director Brian Ellestad said.

“As new homes migrate closer and closer to the airport, we’re seeking new and updated information,” Ellestad noted, adding that the airport would be looking for a federal grant in the first or second quarter of 2022 to assist with its noise mitigation plans.