By Miriam Raftery
November 18, 2011 (El Cajon) – Six East County residents living near Gillespie Field met with Supervisor Dianne Jacob, representatives from the airport and local flight schools Tuesday in an effort to address complaints. Residents claim to be experiencing an increase in flight frequency and noise—with some flights just hundreds of feet over their homes. Officials from Gillespie Field and local flight schools denied flying lower than 1,400 feet above sea level (1,000 feet above the homes), leading Supervisor Jacob to voice frustration over a “disconnect.”
In response to residents’ complaints, the County earlier agreed to extend the comments period to November 7 for a planned expansion of Gillespie Field that would include lengthening runways to accommodate bigger planes. Comments can still be submitted, Supervisor Jacob's office indicated, and will be considered by policy makers.
Residents, meanwhile, say they plan to take photos and videos to provide evidence that planes are flying low over their neighborhoods, a situation some fear may put their safety at risk.
Robert Germann, who lives on the border of Santee and El Cajon, said he’s lived in the area for more than a decade and his parents for many years before that.
“The problem is recent,” said Germann, who blames the issues on a Scandinavian Aviation Academy contract to train Chinese airpline pilots at Gillespie Field. “I live at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain near West Hills,” he told ECM. “They’re coming over at 200 to 300 feet; we can’t even talk on our phones at the time due to the noise…It’s happening every seven minutes, for three or four hours at a time.” Several other residents also claim to have witnessed low flights.
But Peter Drinkwater and Marc Baskel from Gillespie Field expressed skepticism over the claims. They presented radar tracking data obtained from Miramar on a single date, which indicated flights reached 1,400 feet in altitude. Airport officials insisted that the control tower would know if there were frequent low flights and that other pilots would report visual sightings if low flights were commonly occurring.
Carl Frederik Lindfeldt, director of operations at Scandinavian Aviation Academy, said his pilots are regularly briefed on safety regulations and denied that any have violated requirements.
Residents, along with Supervisor Jacob, were invited to take a flight and get a bird-eye view of the flight patterns—while a resident on the ground will estimate altitude to determine whether inaccurate estimates could be the issue. Meanwhile residents insist they have not erred and say that they will get cameras and video recorders to document their claims.
Even if residents are able to provide evidence of flights below 1,000 feet, however, it is unclear what action may be taken—since FAA regulations allow lower flights on takeoff and landing under some circumstances, such as to avoid other flights at higher altitudes. Germann expressed dismay.
“We’re afraid of an expansion,” he told ECM. “Who is responsible if there’s an accident?”
Comments on the airport expansion may be sent to:
Department of Public Works Environmental Services Unit
Attn: Jeff Kashak
5469 Kearny Villa Rd. Ste. 305 SD 92123