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FAA Accused of Ignoring Jet Noise Complaints

June 09, 1988|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

The roar coming from jetliners that fly over Topanga Canyon and Calabasas didn't compare Monday to the rumbles that were coming from the Federal Aviation Administration at Los Angeles International Airport.

It was disclosed that FAA officials quietly dismissed two years of homeowner complaints about noisy jets by declaring that the aircraft are no more noisy than Topanga Canyon's "birds, dogs, cars and wind."

The officials followed that up by suspending a veteran FAA administrator who allegedly admitted to residents that there was a noise problem and proposed rerouting planes to solve it.

Angry canyon residents turned Monday for help from Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana). He called for a formal FAA investigation into the dispute.

"What the FAA has done is outrageous," said Barry Glaser, a canyon resident who has pressed for aircraft noise controls on behalf of the Topanga Town Council.

"Now we know that they've been lying to the community and to the congressman. They've lied about what they were going to do to help us and they've lied about their noise samplings."

'Totally Phony'

The investigation was welcomed by Calabasas resident Margaret Rawls, who said she has been forced to sleep in her home's basement because of the jet noise. "I've always known the FAA's noise readings were totally phony," Rawls said.

FAA officials declined to comment Monday on the accusations.

The dispute was prompted by a May 11 FAA memorandum by Richard Cox, the FAA's air traffic manager for Los Angeles, that effectively closed the door on the canyon noise investigation.

Cox sent the memo to Beilenson, explaining that FAA noise samplings in Topanga Canyon "have shown that there is no appreciable difference between the aircraft noise and ambient noise for the area."

On May 12, Cox removed FAA administrator Louis Perry as assistant manager for procedures, a job that had involved investigating noise complaints and flight procedures over Los Angeles.

Perry, a 31-year FAA veteran, said he has been assigned to "just sit at my desk every day" and do nothing while he appeals Cox's action to a Civil Service board.

"I was told to be candid with the Topanga people, and I was," Perry said in an interview. "Then they got unhappy that I was candid."

Flight Path Change

According to canyon residents, Perry had proposed a slight change to the flight path of jetliners arriving at LAX from the north. The switch would have allowed departing planes to gain height about 3 1/2 miles out over the ocean.

Such a move would have placed northbound aircraft at a higher altitude by the time they flew over Topanga and Calabasas, he said. By the time they passed over inhabited areas, pilots would also be accelerating less and producing less noise.

"By the time they hit shore, the airplane should be higher and quieter," Perry said. "I had approval for a 60-day test period. But when I was working out the procedures, Mr. Cox canceled the test period."

Perry said altering the flight pattern would not have caused any safety problems. "If I have the opportunity, I'd like to try the idea. I think it would reduce the noise."

According to the FAA sound survey, however, there is little jet noise to reduce in Topanga Canyon. Tests conducted last fall showed that ambient noise from birds, dogs, cars and wind registered at 65-80 decibels. But departing jets' noise peaked in the 50-65 decibel range, according to Cox's memo.

But Perry disputed those readings. He said he and a co-worker collected them--even though they "had no training whatsoever" in using sound meters.

"We didn't know how to differentiate between a crow overhead on a phone pole and an aircraft 7,000 feet overhead," Perry said. "I tried to get out of taking the noise samples because we weren't trained--that it would make us look like damn fools."

Cox was unavailable for comment Monday and his assistant, George Sullivan, declined to discuss the dispute. FAA spokeswoman Ellie Brekke said Perry's situation was "under review."

"We'd gotten letters that indicated something was being done about the noise," said Joyce Emerson, a Beilenson aide. "Then we get this letter a month ago that says suddenly there's no noise problem.

"When his superiors see someone with Mr. Perry's stature made some suggestions that were squelched, I'd think some action would be taken."

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