It's taken eight years and $6 million for Burbank airport officials to come up with a proposed solution to ease sleep-depriving aircraft noise that has frustrated nearby residents for decades: Shift some overnight operations to Van Nuys Airport.
The recommendation by the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena Airport Authority is the latest chapter in what has been among the most acrimonious homeowner battles in the San Fernando Valley.
The proposal, part of an effort to ban all overnight flights at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, also represents a new front in the "airport wars" erupting around Southern California. Noise-weary residents increasingly are seeking to limit operations over their skies in part by attempting to get communities near busy airports elsewhere to shoulder more of the burden.
"This has stirred up a little hornet's nest," said Don Schultz, who sits on the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council. "I think it would be an unfair burden. You don't shift it from one airport to the other."
The proposal would send about 16 private and corporate jet flights each night to Van Nuys -- already the world's largest general aviation airport. In Burbank, whether they live in the flatlands around Bob Hope Airport or in the hills ringing the city, residents are fed up with flights that routinely startle them out of a deep slumber.
"They wake you up, they interrupt phone conversations, they cut off your ability to hear the television," said David Piroli, who lives in the hillside home he grew up in. "They're very loud."
Some say they can't enjoy the evening breezes because they must keep windows closed to muffle noise from corporate aircraft, which fly into and out of Bob Hope at odd hours, ferrying entertainment executives and others.
"A large element of our community says 'I don't want to live in a cocoon. I don't like having to keep my house shut up,' " said Don Elsmore, who lives directly under the flight path in an apartment building 2 1/2 miles from the airport.
Many of the region's airports, including those in Santa Ana and Long Beach, already have restrictions limiting their growth, leaving companies that operate late-night flights at Bob Hope with few options. These firms say banning operations could hurt the region's economy.
"Companies that have corporate jets and are repositioning them for the next business day are coming in at night," said Steven Schell, general manager of Atlantic Aviation, which services business jets when they use Bob Hope. "We would like to see flexibility for our customers. We don't think it's necessary for a full shutdown."
Bob Hope isn't alone in its effort to prohibit certain flights. In a notice announcing its intention to develop a plan to phase out noisier aircraft at Van Nuys, the agency that runs the city-owned airport warned that the proposal could shift flights to neighboring airports. Environmental studies for this plan are expected to be released this summer.
Burbank's proposal would ultimately face tough questions at the Federal Aviation Administration, which requires airport operators to undergo a long, complicated application process to prove restrictions are necessary. And the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, which operates Bob Hope, seeks to ban flights by some of the quietest jets operating today -- the first time any airport in the United States has tried to do so.
The FAA sets "the bar very high in order to prove that the restrictions are warranted," wrote Steve Alverson, a Sacramento-based noise consultant, in an e-mail. "The FAA expects that all other methods of noise mitigation/abatement have been exhausted."
An operations swap between Burbank and Van Nuys likely would occur if Bob Hope enacts a proposed ban on takeoffs and landings between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m., according to consultants hired by the airport authority.
"Implementation of a curfew at Bob Hope Airport would, as a practical matter, result in nighttime flights shifting to other airports," consultants wrote in the executive summary of the airport's application to the FAA.
"These shifts will have negligible effect on noise and would be too small to be noticeable, compared to the other traffic already projected at those airports, except at Van Nuys," they continued.
Consultants estimate that a ban on overnight flights at Bob Hope would shift 16.4 operations to Van Nuys. Most of these flights are likely to be business jets that officials say are quiet enough to fly into Burbank around the clock now. This would more than double the number of late-night flights at Van Nuys -- which has nighttime noise limits that prohibit some corporate jets from using the facility.
Legislators who represent the San Fernando Valley in Washington decried any shift in flights from Burbank to Van Nuys.
The benefits of allowing several people to operate private jets in the late evening do not outweigh "thousands of people who want to get a good night's sleep," said Rep. Brad Sherman, (D-Sherman Oaks).