Scottsdale Airport noise complaints reach fever pitch

A view of operations at the Scottsdale Airport. (Submitted photo)

A view of operations at the Scottsdale Airport. (Submitted photo)

Noise complaints stemming from the Scottsdale Airport is an issue with a long history, but Scottsdale may not be the one to blame for the loud roaring planes residents are hearing.

During a May 5 Scottsdale City Council meeting the issue of noise complaints being received by residents due to the local air traffic and changes being made by the Federal Aviation Administration were a topic of conversation.

Scottsdale Airport Aviation Planning and Outreach Coordinator Sarah Ferrara and Aviation Director Gary Mascaro both spoke at the meeting explaining what changes are going on, and how the airport is working to solve the growing noise issue.

The Scottsdale Airport, 15000 N. Airport Drive, was originally a World War II basic training facility called Thunderbird Field II opening in 1942, according to the Scottsdale Airport website. It was deactivated less than three years later, after graduating more than 5,500 students.

The airport was owned by a couple other entities, including Arizona State University before being acquired by the city of Scottsdale in 1966.

In 2004 there were over 450 aircrafts based at Scottsdale Airport, from single engine recreational planes to corporate jets. Approximately 200,000 takeoffs and landings occurred, making Scottsdale the second busiest single-runway airport in the country, and the busiest corporate jet facility in the state.

City officials believe the airport generates more than $182 million annually in revenue to the region’s economy and the combined annual impact of the airport/airpark is approximately $2.5-3.0 billion.

The issue of NextGen

Scottsdale resident John Washington says the the complaints are stemming from regional changes the Federal Aviation Administration has made effecting flight paths for Sky Harbor Airport, as well as residential encroachment moving in on the Scottsdale Airport.

John Washington

John Washington

“A lot wiser people than those in power now, set up as a buffer zone (around the airport),” said Mr. Washington in a June 3 phone interview. “Now they are plugging residents right into the vicinity of the airport.”

Mr. Washington, a member of the Arizona Business Aviation Association, is a community advocate and editor at

The FAA implemented changes to streamline departures using a congressional mandate called NextGen, on Sept. 18, 2014. This requires all commercial airports in the country to change their flight paths, according to Mr. Mascaro during the city council meeting.

NextGen is short for Next Generation Air Transportation system. It is not just a single program, but is made up of a series of initiatives designed to make air travel more efficient, according to the FAA website.

The new program has altered the flight paths for planes arriving and departing from the Sky Harbor Airport, but not the Scottsdale Airport because the Scottsdale Airport is a general aviation reliever facility that serves to relieve smaller and slower aircraft operations from commercial airports.

“The whole purpose of NextGen is to keep planes closer to the airport, cut down travel time, cut down fuel,” said Mr. Washington. “The layering of approach and departure noise (from Sky Harbor) on top of Scottsdale airport raises the overall level of volume.”

Mr. Washington explained that while the old flight pattern’s use to follow the Salt River before turning to head north, the path now follows the Loop 101 a lot tighter than before.

“From my experience in downtown Scottsdale, it’s departures that are really making the noise. There are a lot of folks in McCormick Ranch and north who are experiencing noise from both airports,” he said. “They kind of get a double whammy, one problem magnifies the other.”

Rachel Smetana, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane’s chief of staff, agrees citizens in the north part of Scottsdale are being impacted the most.

“It especially seems to worse in the subdivisions that are cradled by the McDowell Mountain Preserve,” said Ms. Smetana in a June 3 phone interview. “As the planes fly by there, there must be some sort of echo effect.”

Ms. Smetana says the mayor’s office has received around 100 individual complaints.
According to the Scottsdale Airport Noise Complaint Summary provided for Jan. 1-March 31, there have been a total of 698 complaints in 2015.

Hundreds of private jets routinely use the Scottsdale Airport. (Submitted photo)

Hundreds of private jets routinely use the Scottsdale Airport. (Submitted photo)

Is there a solution?

Ms. Smetana said the Mayor’s office has reached out to the FAA “several times” as well as Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. David Schweikert.

On May 27, the mayor’s office received a letter from the FAA regarding the appeal of NextGen take-off and landing procedures and where the pilots throttle up the plane to see if that effected the noise.

Airplanes flying over Scottsdale are at about 7,000 to 8,000 feet above ground level, according to Ms. Smetana. However, the FAA is saying that while the noise might be noticed, it does not require a change.

“It doesn’t seem, by the conversations with the FAA, that there is a chance they will go back to the old flight patterns,” said Ms. Smetana. “We are being impacted, but they are saying it isn’t to the level that they are even going to consider changing.”

Mr. Mascaro heard the same response.

“We understand the flight tracks have to remain and that is loud and clear from the FAA,” Mr. Mascaro said at the May meeting. “We requested the FAA make procedural adjustments to the new tracks to help alleviate some negative impacts.”

Ms. Smetana said the Scottsdale Mayor’s office is trying to figure out what steps to take now.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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