The skies above Williams Gateway Airport have quieted down considerably since the military refitted engines on refueling jets using the airport.
Officials received 75 noise complaints January through July this year, compared to 238 for the same period in 2004, airport community relations coordinator Patrick Oakley said.
The number of noise complaints traceable to the KC-135, a 161-ton jet which fuels other planes in midair and carries military cargo, plummeted at the end of 2004 when the Air National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing received the revamped planes, five years after Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker began asking the U.S. Air Force to give the unit the quieter models.
The 161st is based at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, but its planes land frequently at Williams, the site of a closed Air Force base.
Oakley said he noticed the difference immediately. "One flew by and I had to take a second look, because I couldn’t really hear them," he said. "Then I took a closer look and saw that the engines were fatter."
These bigger engines add more bulk to an already intimidating plane, with a 131-foot wingspan.
"Some people call because of the sheer size of the airplane flying over their house," Oakley said.
Another factor curtailing noise complaints, he said, is a curfew on "run-ups," or throttling planes at full blast on the runways, that was put in place after a particularly bad month in early 2004.
The total number of takeoffs and landings is holding steady this year compared with last, and the airport has swarms of new neighbors as development continues to take off just to the west in Gilbert, creating more potential sources for the complaints, Oakley said. Calls from residents are down, though, and none have originated with the retail tenants of nearby Gilbert Gateway Towne Center.
Lynn Graff, director of housing for Arizona State University Polytechinic, said jet noise hasn’t been a major fact of life for residents of the campus formerly known as ASU East.
"To me, part of it is you get used to it," said Graff, who has worked at the college for two years.
Noise complaints can be filed with the airport by calling (480) 929-7902.