REDWOOD CITY -- A startup air travel service that specializes in business commutes is causing headaches for residents in North Fair Oaks and other communities under its flight path into San Carlos Airport.
Residents who attended a packed hearing Tuesday on noise generated by planes at the small airport said the problem got significantly worse three years ago, right around the time Surf Air, which bills itself as "the nation's private air travel club," began flying out of the airport.
One resident compared the noise of the venture capital-backed company's Pilatus PC-12 aircraft to "divebombing." Others said the commercial operation is out of step with a general aviation airport that mostly caters to amateur pilots.
"The noise is pervasive, it's continuous, it happens everyday and it needs to stop," said Adam Ullman, of North Fair Oaks.
After listening to complaints from more than a dozen residents, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors called for a study of noise generated by airplanes flying in and out of the county-owned airport that could include mandatory restrictions on flying at night and other measures.
The board also heard from more than 20 supporters of the airport, who expressed concern that restricting activities at the airport could threaten people's jobs and possibly lead to the facility's closure. Supervisors assured them those fears were unfounded.
Some Surf Air supporters accused residents of exaggerating how loud the planes are and how low they fly. Heather Rafter, a San Carlos attorney who uses Surf Air to fly to Los Angeles, said the company provides a vital service.
"I absolutely could not manage to be a working mom and run my law firm without the benefit of surf air," she said.
The company works on a subscription model. For a minimum of $1,950 a month, plus a $1,000 initiation fee, members can take unlimited flights to nearly a dozen airports in California without security lines and other hassles of ordinary air travel.
The company has participated since the fall of 2013 in a working group with county leaders, citizens and other stakeholders, but some residents said Surf Air has not followed through on voluntary measures to dampen the noise from its aircraft. And the situation hasn't improved.
Supervisor Don Horsely, who participated in the working group, said he's heard complaints from many residents, some of whom claim that the noise is affecting their health.
"I'm so very frustrated," Horsley said, "because nothing has worked and we have not seen any improvements."
Jim Sullivan, the company's senior vice president of operations, said after Tuesday's meeting that Surf Air is committed to fixing the problem and is working on a solution that would allow its pilots to deviate from its Federal Aviation Administration-prescribed flight path in good weather conditions. The path would take the planes over Highway 101 instead of residential neighborhoods.
"We understand the frustration of the community," Sullivan said. "It's been frustrating for us as well in that we implement measures that we agree on as a group but it doesn't seem to produce meaningful results."
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