The noisiest jets at Van Nuys Airport will be phased out over the next six years with a new law approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council on Friday, but residents may not notice a difference for several years.
A debate over noise around the San Fernando Valley airport, one of the busiest general aviation centers in the nation, has spanned several decades. Officials have tried to mitigate the sound through an overnight departure curfew that begins at 10 p.m. and a residential soundproofing program, but Councilman Tony Cardenas hailed Friday's change as the most significant.
Although the proposal was opposed by officials at the National Business Aviation Assn. who said it was "unreasonable" and would shift business elsewhere, Cardenas said the gradual implementation of the new rules balanced economic interests with those of constituents who would prefer to see the airport closed.
"A lot of people in the community complain because they see jets come in and out and they say, 'We don't own jets, why do we have to deal with the noise?' " Cardenas said. "With all due respect, there are literally hundreds of jobs on the ground every single day, and thousands of jobs that are affected by the activity -- it's the biggest economic engine in the Valley."
Under the four-step plan, jets that generate noise of 85 decibels or higher at takeoff will be banned this year. The limits will gradually become more strict in 2011 and 2014, and by 2016 the noise must not exceed 77 decibels.
Shouting or operating a garbage disposal three feet away might generate a maximum of 80 decibels, according to an explanatory report on the website of Los Angeles World Airports. The report noted that it was difficult to discern changes of less than 3 decibels outside a laboratory.
This year's change is not expected to affect any flights, and airport officials estimate that just seven flights annually would be affected in 2011, based on historical data. Officials expect that by 2014 the sound restrictions will affect nearly 2,000 arrivals and departures and 25 aircraft based at Van Nuys Airport. Owners would either have to retrofit their aircraft to make them quieter or move elsewhere. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised the phaseout of the so-called Stage 2 aircraft and said the jets "will be well over 40-year-old technology by the time the ban is in full effect."
In a statement, the mayor said approval of the law was "a confirmation that City Hall and L.A.'s neighborhoods can truly work together to accomplish difficult, significant tasks to improve our quality of life."
But Jol Silversmith, outside counsel for the National Business Aviation Assn., predicted that the measure "will have a negligible effect to the average neighbor because there's still going to be an enormous amount of traffic."
"Shifting traffic to other airports is not a solution; it simply makes the problem someone else's problem," Silversmith said.
Military, government and emergency flights would be exempt. For a few years there would also be an exemption for scheduled maintenance to alleviate the effect on airport workers.
Before the vote, Van Nuys resident Prudy Schultz urged council members to give residents relief. "Allow me, my neighbors and all of the noise-impacted individuals near the airport to enjoy our open windows and our backyards," she said.