Mesa, CAE's response lacks proper solution

By The Editor, KFFS
Published 3/11/14

On 2/20/14, the City of Mesa announced CAE Oxford Aviation Academy's response to the community's long-standing concerns on the safety and noise issues caused by CAE's presence at Falcon Field. The complete statement can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, CAE's response fails in several ways. No enforceable limits have been placed on the number of CAE flights/operations that can take place at Falcon Field, the hours during which they operate, the amount of noise they are allowed to generate, the areas over which they fly, or even the minimum height they must maintain over residential areas "when taking off or landing". Until such limits are mandated, no solution will truly be effective.

The voluntary Fly Friendly procedures and Task Force recommendations established back in 2009 remain largely ineffective because they are in no way mandatorily enforced. Pilots disregard them as they please, with no penalty imposed. The City claims that the Task Force was highly effective, as measured by the number of complaints received after it was established, but there are a few problems with this assumption:

• The city changed to a more difficult-to-use noise complaint form, which discourages people from using it, and effectively reduces the number of people who enter complaints. (see the original here)
• The poor economic conditions at the time resulted in fewer people flying, and consequently less noise from the airport.
• Now that economic conditions have improved, the noise and safety issues have resurfaced and are even worse than before. If the Task Force had truly been effective, the problem would not have returned.

The overall proposed solution is based on the original recommendations and therefore lacks effectiveness, however specific noteworthy items are addressed here:

"After receiving input from community members and the City of Mesa (City), CAE Oxford Aviation Academy (CAE Oxford), a commercial airline pilot training academy at Falcon Field Airport, has agreed to voluntarily make changes to aircraft flight operations to help reduce noise impacts. These changes are in addition to their continuing commitment to comply with the voluntary noise abatement “fly friendly” procedures that were established at the airport in 2009 by a task force consisting of community members, CAE Oxford (formerly Sabena and CAE), and other airport tenants."

If you review the Fly Friendly noise abatement procedures, then compare this to what you see and hear over your neighborhood every day, you may notice that most most pilots are actually not following them. The problem is that these procedures are not required, so pilots can choose not to follow them for reasons as trivial as convenience, with absolutely no consequence.

"Effective Monday, February 17, CAE Oxford began a 90-day trial period during which their touch-and-go operations will be conducted only between 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Between 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m., student pilots will be required to taxi off the runway and then taxi back to the end of the runway to take off again. This will reduce the number of repetitive operations. It will also enable aircraft to take off again from the end of the runway (rather than the middle) and climb to a higher altitude before flying over residential areas."

• CAE is free to discontinue this practice after the 90 day trial, or even sooner, with no penalty incurred.
• Even if aircraft are coming to a complete stop before taking off again, another aircraft is free to take off while the first one is taxiing back.
• Even if they aren't doing touch-and-gos, they are still performing other flight operations between 5p and 8a, so the noise and safety issues are still present. CAE's flights have been observed as late as 11 pm during the week.
• 3 weeks into this 90-day trial period (aside from weather and special events), a substantial improvement in the noise levels between 5p and 8a has not been observed.
• This does nothing to improve noise levels during the day between 8a and 5p, and in fact encourages more traffic during this time.

"The recent purchase of additional state-of-the-art flight simulators to use in its curriculum. Because these simulators replicate so closely the actual flying of an aircraft, the students will be able to spend more time learning in the simulator and less time actually flying in aircraft."

CAE has only a few simulators vs. over 75 aircraft. According to Mr. Van Allen, the simulators cost $1.5 million each, while an aircraft costs about $300,000. It's apparent that the aircraft will always be subject to more use.

"In addition to the 90-day trial period limiting touch-and-go operations to 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., CAE Oxford flight instructors and students are being asked to go to other airports for touch-and-go activities when their curriculum and student proficiency allows."

Again, this is a totally voluntary measure that is not guaranteed by CAE, cannot be enforced, and can be abandoned at any time. Like many of these solutions, it's effectiveness can't be quantified. How many touch and gos will still take place at Falcon Field, and how many at other airports?

"Some members of the community have expressed a strong desire for CAE Oxford to install noise mufflers on their aircraft. CAE Oxford has volunteered to work with the City, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and community members to further explore the required process to have noise mufflers certified by the FAA for use on aircraft owned by CAE Oxford. Mufflers are not currently certified on their specific type of aircraft and must be certified by the FAA before they can be used."

This is one of the only proposed solutions that shows promise, but how long must we wait for CAE to take action and get their aircraft certified by the FAA...even though the noise mufflers are used (and in some cases, required) on the same aircraft in Europe.

"The existing Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) lights located on each runway are scheduled to be replaced this summer. The lights are used by pilots to help ensure that they are approaching the runway at a safe angle when they are landing. The City has received approval from the FAA to set the new PAPIs at a 4 degree setting. The existing PAPIs for Runways 4R/22L are set at 3 degrees. By adjusting the lights higher by one degree, this will increase an aircraft’s altitude (and thus reduce associated noise) by approximately 92 feet when it is one mile away from the end of the runway."

Increasing the approach angle by 1 degree will only potentially reduce overhead noise during landing operations. Take-off operations generate an exponentially greater amount of noise than landings, so this adjustment will not substantially reduce the overall amount of noise generated by CAE.

"In addition to notifying airport tenants and users and based on your request, the City will also send email notifications to neighbors when runways are expected to experience higher-than-normal use, such as when one of the two runways is closed for construction, causing increased use of the second runway."

Thanks for the heads-up, but this doesn't ultimately improve the noise and safety issues caused by CAE's presence at Falcon Field.

"Community meetings will continue to be held to ensure that residents and Falcon Field tenants and users can continue to communicate and work together to reach a healthy balance between the needs of neighbors and Airport users. "

How often will these meetings be held? They were being held on the second Tuesday of each month, but meetings have not been announced for March or any subsequent months.

"The City appreciates all of the time and effort that all the interested parties are putting forth to find and implement these reasonable solutions. We also appreciate all our tenants’ and pilots’ continuing efforts to “fly friendly” and our community’s support for the long-term success of Falcon Field."

The Fly Friendly procedures look good on paper, but exactly how effective are they? This is hard to judge, because many pilots choose not to follow them. For example, one of the Fly Friendly recommendations is to "Avoid low-level, high-power approaches/departures. Use reduced power setting whenever possible." Unfortunately (even on clear, windless days), many pilots still come in loud and fast, either from lack of experience, or from lack of consideration for the surrounding community.

As mentioned many times before, no solution will be truly effective until it's conditions are made mandatory. The city often mentions that Falcon Field is a "public use" airport, and that it's usage cannot be restricted. CAE however is a corporation, which saturates the airport to the point that it's use by the general public for which it is intended, is greatly restricted. The tenants at Falcon Field and the surrounding communities have tolerated the noise, safety, and saturation issues caused by CAE's presence, and the City's reluctance to properly deal with these issues, long enough. It's time for the responsible parties to step up and take some action.

Visit the Voter Initiative page for more more information on a solution that finally shows some promise.

City Council

Mayor, Council & Manager's
Contact System:
E-mail Mayor &
all Council members:

City of Mesa Contacts


Alex Finter

City Manager:

Chris Brady

Ass't to City Mgr:

Natalie Lewis

District 1 Councilmember:

Dave Richins

District 2 Councilmember:

Terry Benelli

District 3 Councilmember:

Dennis Kavanaugh

District 4 Councilmember:

Christopher Glover

District 5 Councilmember:

David Luna

District 6 Councilmember:

Scott Sommers

FF Airport Director:

Corinne Nystrom