Centennial Airport activates noise monitors

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The country's second-busiest general aviation airport wants to be a good neighbor.

So in an effort to help minimize the impact of noise from the more than 850 aircraft that take off and land at Centennial Airport every day, the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority now employs a full-time “noise specialist” — and just finished installing 12 noise monitors in a wide area around the airport's perimeter.

The 22-foot-tall monitors, six located in Arapahoe County and six in Douglas County, were purchased with a $1.5 million grant from the FAA.

According to Scott Drexler, Centennial Airport's noise and planning specialist, the monitors will all be fully operational by the end of October.

Airport officials also plan to utilize two additional mobile monitors that can be moved around in response to future noise complaints. “Just because your house isn't right next to a monitor, it doesn't mean that our system won't be able to track the noise levels in your neighborhood,” said Drexler, who has worked at the airport for two years and been in his current job as noise specialist for five months.

“Noise is very subjective,” he said. “Working here, you get used to it. It doesn't bother me at all. And I actually live just a mile and a half from the airport.”

But when the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable was created in May 2009, aircraft engine noise had become a big concern for many living and working near the airport, which does not handle commercial airline traffic but still ranks as the nation's 28th busiest airport in overall operations.

Drexler coordinates the noise roundtable meetings, which take place once a month at the Ramada Hotel adjacent to the airport. Roundtable participants include local elected officials, appointed representatives from the community, airport staff, the Federal Aviation Administration, Colorado Department of Transportation (Aeronautics Division) and airport users. Centennial City Councilman Keith Gardner represents the city at roundtable meetings.

The Airport Authority contributed $75,000 to the noise monitor project, and Drexler estimates it will cost about $100,000 a year to operate program.

“The monitors all have weather stations that record wind speed and wind direction too,” Drexler said. Using radar data airport officials get from the FAA, information from the monitors will allow Drexler to correlate a “sound event” with a radar track of a specific aircraft.

“That means monitors won't mistake noise from passing vehicles for aircraft noise,” he said.

Six of the monitors are powered by solar panels, six by electricity.

In Centennial, there's a monitor at Hunter's Hill. Several are set up on airport property; one is located in Cherry Creek State Park; others are in Lone Tree, Castle Rock, Parker and Aurora.

Airport officials are already receiving information from the monitors and plan to make the data available online beginning sometime in early January.

Surrounded by 23 business parks, thousands of homes and located a scant 13 miles from downtown Denver, the airport's motto is: “Global reach, local access.”

When it opened on May 13, 1967, on 1,400 acres in unincorporated Arapahoe County, the facility was called the Arapahoe County Airport. It was renamed Centennial Airport in 1984.

Today, its three runways, ranging in length from 4,800 feet to 10,000 feet, accommodate private and charter air traffic.

According to a study released in October by the Colorado Division of Aeronautics, the airport contributes — directly and indirectly — an estimated $1.3 billion annually to the local economy.

The airport's busiest year was 1998, when more than 466,000 takeoffs and landings were logged. In 2012, Centennial registered 308,173 operations.

“Summer is the busiest time of the year,” said Drexler. “More people are out flying. There's more training aircraft operating.”

In 2012, the airport logged about 2,000 noise complaints. “This year, we are close to 3,000 (complaints) already and are probably on track for 3,500,” Drexler said.

Because aircraft have to both land and take off into the wind, bad weather tends to spur more noise complaints. “Bad weather impacts our runways operations,” Drexler said. “Instead of taking off to the south, when weather rolls in, aircraft usually have to take off to the north, where there's a denser population in cities like Centennial and Greenwood Village.”

Most noise complaints come in via the airport's website. There's also a “noise line” — 303-790-4709 — and Drexler said people often contact him directly with complaints.

“Before the monitors went in, complaints were our only basis in determining noise issues,” said Drexler. “The monitors will help us identify more clearly noise impacts and help us understand if our voluntary noise abatement guidelines are working — and where we need to make adjustments.”

Drexler said the largest aircraft currently flying into the airport is an Embraer Lineage 1000, a two-engine luxury jet that can carry up to 30 passengers.

In the past, most noise complaints were generated by “the older jets,” Drexler said. “Now they tend to center around helicopters and older prop planes. The newer jets are much quieter.”

Aircraft noise, he explained, often depends “on an individual aircraft's configurations and settings. But there are some locations, like right off the end of the runway, where there is very little we can do” about noise.

Drexler said airport officials often talk to pilots about “voluntary noise guidelines” and “where the noise-sensitive areas are located. The pilot community has always been very responsive,” he said. “They want to be good neighbors and definitely don't want to see the airport go away.”

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