Beginning in early 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) introduced a new program, NextGen, which rerouted flight paths in the South Bay and Peninsula in an effort to improve airport infrastructure, air traffic management, and provide nearly $133 billion in benefits to airports, airlines, and passengers. NextGen was implemented with the intention to drastically advance airport technology, resulting in more efficient travel. With NextGen, information is transmitted to pilots via satellite, keeping them more up to date about their own positions. This has led to an increase in the amount of airplane traffic and has caused pilots to take more direct routes, which in turn has led them to fly over new areas. Some of these new areas include Bay Area homes, resulting in San Francisco International Airport receiving more than 150,000 noise complaints in 2015.
Meanwhile, the California real estate market experienced one of its best years in recent history, with home sales increasing by 7.6 percent over the prior year. There were 13,030 sales of homes in Santa Clara County in 2015, while the median home price in San Mateo County increased 16.8 percent. This spike in home purchases coupled with the implementation of NextGen has caused a record number of airplane noise complaints to be recorded. With home prices being as high as they are, new and old residents alike in the Bay Area expect to be able to enjoy their home without the incessant interruption of airplane noise. Airplane noise has been reported to occur over some South Bay and Peninsula homes as often as every two minutes during peak hours.
For over a year, thousands of residents have voiced their complaints to local airports to no avail. On April 4, 2016, U.S. representatives Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, and Sam Farr announced the formation of the Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals, a committee formed to combat the effects of the NextGen program. The committee consists of 12 elected officials who are working with stakeholders to mitigate the increase in airplane noise and to find solutions to help ease the intrusion into the lives of residents in the South Bay and Peninsula.
Currently, the acceptable noise level under federal law is 65 decibels, near the level of sound a vacuum cleaner emanates. In comparison, the NextGen program has caused airplane noise in some areas around the South Bay and Peninsula to be equivalent to someone vacuuming your home every two minutes. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has urged the FAA that the federal level for acceptable noise is outdated and is not in line with the true effect on South Bay and Peninsula communities.
At an event sponsored by our firm and hosted by the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® on May 6, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo was the featured speaker and discussed the committee’s current plans in combating NextGen. With the FAA being required to provide survey information on the noise effect on communities by the end of the year and proposals being made by the committee, there is hope in sight. Community meetings have been scheduled by the committee to allow residents to hear the proposals being made by the committee, and to contribute their input. Meetings are scheduled to be held in Santa Cruz on May 25, San Mateo on June 15, and Santa Clara on June 29 of 2016.
Many realtors in the area are concerned due to the real estate law implications the NextGen program has. The potential for a decline in property value and disclosure issues concerning the increase in airplane noise is at the forefront of realtors’ minds all over the Bay Area. Airplane noise is something that certainly should be disclosed, and our firm regularly assists and counsels realtors and sellers on disclosure duties. A revamp in the entire airplane business that results in airplane noise every two minutes in some areas is certainly something that a buyer should be made aware of. Stay tuned to see if the FAA will be forced to reconsider their NextGen program.