Mesa officials are poised to make changes to a map enlarging the noise range for Falcon Field Airport - an action that has raised a furor among residents.
The much-debated subject of changing the noise contour map and a related public airport disclosure map, which informs new homebuyers of the airport's nearby presence, is really not a debate at all, according to city officials. They say it's a Federal Aviation Administration guideline the city must follow.
Corrine Nystrom, the airport's director, recently told the City Council and mayor at a meeting the footprint change was part of the larger master plan created for the airport to prepare it for growth in the future. Nystrom informed city officials that a larger noise footprint was necessary given the airport's growth.
A recent report to the city identified 84 businesses at the airport employing more than 1,200 workers. About 900 aircraft are currently based there, and in less than 20 years, that number is expected to grow to 1,500.
Nystrom said both the map and master plan would be presented to the FAA for approval.
"The FAA says, 'We either agree or disagree with your Falcon Field forecast,'" she said of the master plan, which highlights economic growth, as well as airport development projects. "At airport master plans across the United States, you want to have consistency - a level playing field."
Residents have mounted protest over all of the changes at the airport, recently submitting a 30-page petition to the city highlighting concerns, including the safety of flight operations and noise from aircraft.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who formed a committee made up of community and business leaders to bridge a widening fissure between the airport and its neighbors, recently began taking into consideration recommendations for the airport made by the ad hoc committee.
The neighborhood group that submitted the petition, Keep Falcon Field Safe Committee, said of particular issue was a recommendation to change the public airport disclosure map, which is based on the enlarged noise contour map. They were concerned that the recommendation would give a flight training school based at the airport a license to fly farther over the surrounding neighborhood.
CAE/Sabena Flight Training Center at the airport - the world's largest flight school for foreign pilots - has been at the center of residents' safety and noise complaints since it moved to the site in 2008.
Nystrom said the noise contour map was directly related to the airport updating its public disclosure map, as well as an effort to stay within FAA guidelines.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said airport operators across the country develop noise contour maps using federal guidance.
"We recommend that airports update their noise maps every three to five years," Gregor said, adding that it was not a requirement. "The city is initiating changes to comply with FAA guidance."
Gregor said the FAA has ultimate authority in signing off on any changes.
Nystrom told city officials the noise contour map would be reviewed by the FAA in the coming months, and once approved the updated airport disclosure map would be filed with the Arizona Department of Real Estate.