Residents demand changes at Centennial Airport

FAA to review issues with noise, lead, fuel

Tayler Shaw
tshaw@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 12/12/22

Paul Cucci has lived in the Sundance Hills neighborhood of Greenwood Village for 32 years, and for most of that time, living near the Centennial Airport was OK. 

However, things changed over …

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Residents demand changes at Centennial Airport

FAA to review issues with noise, lead, fuel

Posted

Paul Cucci has lived in the Sundance Hills neighborhood of Greenwood Village for 32 years, and for most of that time, living near the Centennial Airport was OK. 

However, things changed over a year ago, Cucci said, describing the volume of planes and flight patterns as incessant. 

“I can rarely step outside and not hear a plane,” Cucci said. 

Now, he and other residents are actively working to demand changes be made to address safety concerns and reduce air traffic and noise. 

On Dec. 7, Cucci and a large group of residents gathered at the airport to express concerns to the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable. An additional 30 residents attended the meeting virtually. 

The Centennial Airport, located at 7565 S. Peoria St., is a general aviation airport. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it is one of the 25 busiest airports in the U.S. and averages 1,000 takeoffs and landings per day.

The noise roundtable, created in 2009, aims to work with the airport to reduce and mitigate the impact of aircraft noise on surrounding communities, according to Centennial Airport’s website

Members of the roundtable include local elected officials in Arapahoe and Douglas counties, airport staff, the FAA, CDOT and airport users. 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, where residents could speak one-by-one for three uninterrupted minutes to the roundtable representatives, about 20 people spoke, many of whom live in Greenwood Village. 

Residents shared stories of airplane noise interrupting their daily lives and creating mental health concerns. A few invited officials to come to their property and see what it’s like to live there. 

Others described training planes repeatedly circling over their homes. Several people asked the airport to no longer permit touch-and-go landings, which is when a plane lands and takes off again without coming to a full stop — a common practice in flight training.  

They also expressed concern about lead in the fuel of planes flying overhead, and the dangers it poses to their health. 

Some asked for the airport to reduce the number of flights that occur, saying they don’t want the air traffic problem to be redirected to another community.  

Given these concerns, a group of residents formed “Quiet Skies Over Arapahoe County.” The group has a website, bit.ly/quietskies, to share information with community members about resident concerns and action, updates on progress, and opportunities to get involved. 

Responding to the concerns, Mike Fronapfel, executive director and CEO at Centennial Airport, said, “We’re going to work as quickly as possible to implement some of the unleaded fuel options out here when we can, and then hopefully we can partner with the FAA to help them reduce the size of that patten traffic so that it doesn’t impact the neighborhood as much.”

Planes stand at Centennial Airport in 2018.
Planes stand at Centennial Airport in 2018.

Why are more planes flying over neighborhoods? 

After two planes collided in mid-air over the Cherry Creek State Park area in May 2021, the FAA Control Tower changed how it manages the pattern of traffic, now sequencing the aircraft as they come in on parallel runways, said Fronapfel. 

The goal of this change is to enhance safety, he said.

“However, it’s — the result of it has been more aircraft flying out over the neighborhoods,” Fronapfel said. 

Typically, these types of significant changes require the FAA to go through an environmental process. 

“Because this was a reaction to that mid-air, I think they just implemented it without doing that process,” he said. “So, our recommendation was that they, first of all, revisit that change and maybe revert back to the old way they managed it.”

On Oct. 19, Fronapfel sent a letter to Jeff Lawton, an air traffic manager for the Centennial control tower, with recommendations of actions for the FAA to take to help address some of the issues the community raised.

For example, one of the requests included asking the FAA to see if it is possible to keep the training pattern aircraft south of Arapahoe Road, east of Interstate 25 and north of Lincoln Avenue whenever possible. 

“We understand the intent of staggering the aircraft is to reduce the likelihood of another mid-air collision occurring. However, since Centennial Airport opened, out of 16.2 million operations there has been one mid-air collision,” Fronapfel said in the letter. 

He wrote Greenwood Village residents are “very concerned about the significant increase in traffic and noise over their homes as a result of this change” and the community “is threatening to pursue legal action against the FAA.”

During the Dec. 7 meeting, Fronapfel asked if he can expect to see a response to the letter, to which one of the FAA representatives explained it is being processed. 

The meeting room at the Centennial Airport on Dec. 7 was nearly full during the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable meeting.
The meeting room at the Centennial Airport on Dec. 7 was nearly full during the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable meeting.

Officials highlight need for FAA involvement  

There were three representatives from the FAA who virtually attended the Dec. 7 meeting, which residents and members of the noise roundtable expressed gratitude for. 

“This is the first meeting that we’ve had recently that the FAA has been able to attend, and so we really need them at the table. Because ultimately, they control the airspace, they control the pattern traffic, they control what the aircraft do within that airspace,” Fronapfel said. “We need them to be a stakeholder in the process.”

Centennial councilmember Candace Moon said it had been a while since the FAA had last attended a noise roundtable meeting. 

“I miss seeing them in our meetings,” Moon said. “I think they’ve been very slow to address this issue.” 

One of the requests in Fronapfel’s letter is that there be FAA representation at the monthly noise roundtable meetings to help answer questions. 

In response to the concerns expressed on Dec. 7, Michael Valencia, general manager of the FAA Denver District, said he wrote five pages of “detailed notes” and thanked those who spoke.

“I will say that we heard you,” he said. “We look forward to partnering and to working together.”

Justin Biassou, an FAA community engagement officer for the Northwest Mountain and Alaskan Regions, said, “We not only heard what you had to say, we took copious amounts of notes. 

“And we have subject matter experts that are going to take down much of what you’ve shared with us tonight and look into some of the concerns,” he said. “More to come from us.”

Greenwood Village councilmember Donna Johnston said she is thankful the FAA attended the meeting, but she would prefer them to be in person. 

“Most importantly, it does seem that they have a large responsibility to make — affect change. And we’re not gonna wait a year, or two years, or three years. We have an immediate problem,” Johnston said.

“We’re not asking for much,” she said. “Please consider doing more quickly.” 

When asked if the FAA can get things done more quickly, Valencia said there are many stakeholders involved and any immediate actions would have repercussions, so the FAA has to be methodical in its decision making. 

“We are not going to sit on our hands and not do anything,” he said. “We’re going to build some trust, and you’re going to get to know me.” 

Planes on a runway at Centennial Airport just outside the City of Centennial.
Planes on a runway at Centennial Airport just outside the City of Centennial.

Centennial Airport to start new study 

During the meeting, some residents expressed confusion about who they should be talking to in order to get changes made. They said there have been times when they talked to the FAA and were told they should be speaking with the airport instead, and vice versa. 

When asked what his response was to this, Fronapfel said, “Yeah, it’s a frustrating scenario because the FAA controls the traffic and they control aircraft in the airspace. However, they have the local airports be the ones to address the noise issues.” 

For example, Fronapfel said the airport has voluntary noise abatement guidelines, and if those were followed all the time, it would be helpful. 

“But they can’t be followed all the time if the FAA is controlling traffic in such a way that it doesn’t follow those guidelines,” he said. “They don’t allow local airports to dictate what they do without going through a Part 150 process which they approve and sign off on.”

Part 150 refers to a voluntary program called Airport Noise Compatibility Planning, according to the FAA

The process involves someone looking at the existing traffic and the forecast for future traffic, and then they do a computer model to create a new set of noise contours, Fronapfel said. 

Noise contours are a series of lines on a map that show existing or potential areas of significant aircraft noise exposure, according to Boca Raton Airport

Through doing this computer model, people can see whether the noise contours are expanding or contracting. From there, committees create recommendations for noise control and abatement that will eventually go to the FAA for review and approval, Fronapfel said. 

Fronapfel said the airport has a new Part 150 study it hopes to do this upcoming year. 

“We’re overdue to have a new Part 150 study,” he said, explaining the last study was in 2008.

The nature of the air traffic and the noise was different back then, he said, as it was driven by jet aircraft. Now, it is driven by the propeller aircraft and the training aircraft. 

According to the November noise report, the majority of noise complaints were filed for propellers. 

Another aspect of the Part 150 study is looking at the land use around the airport and recommending certain types of uses and developments for vacant parcels, Fronapfel said. 

After the study is done, he hopes to go to the different county and city jurisdictions to have them implement the land use recommendations into their codes, as well as adopt the same noise contours, as those are used to help determine where to build houses. 

“We want everybody, kind of, on the same page,” he said. 

An airplane takes off from Centennial Airport, located in Arapahoe County. The airport is one of the top two busiest in the country for take-offs and landings.
An airplane takes off from Centennial Airport, located in Arapahoe County. The airport is one of the top two busiest in the country for take-offs and …

Efforts to eliminate lead 

According to the FAA’s website, aviation gasoline is the fuel most commonly used in piston-engine aircraft and is the only transportation fuel in the U.S. to contain lead.

Fronapfel shared a statement with Colorado Community Media that says, “The Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority is aware of the community’s concern regarding the use of leaded aviation fuel and is already working with our Fixed Based Operators (FBOs) and flight schools to discuss transitioning to one of the FAA-approved alternative unleaded fuels at Centennial Airport.

“Our hope is to be among the leaders in addressing this issue in a safe and timely manner and working with the FAA and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in transitioning to unleaded aviation fuel nationwide so that whether an aircraft originates from Centennial Airport or not, everyone can be assured that only unleaded fuels are being utilized.”

In February, the FAA announced an initiative to eliminate the use of leaded aviation fuel by the end of 2030 “without adversely affecting the existing piston-engine fleet,” the administration said in a news release

During the Dec. 7 meeting, one of the people who spoke during public comment was Brad Schuster, the northwest mountain regional manager at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 

“We represent 9,000 pilots in the Colorado region and over 250,000 nationwide,” Schuster said. “I want to say that our CEO and President Mark Baker strongly empathizes with the concerns of those in the audience that have expressed the concerns of lead.” 

He said the Centennial Airport is “committed to expeditiously moving to only recently available unleaded fuels.”

“And between the next 12 to 36 months, that process is happening. It’s a matter of not only formulation, but production and distribution,” he said. “It’s gonna happen soon, but notwithstanding the fact that it doesn’t make it any better for the people in attendance today, so we understand that.” 

In an interview after the meeting, Fronapfel pointed out that on Oct. 7, the EPA proposed an endangerment finding for lead emissions from aircraft engines that operate on leaded fuel.

“When it comes to our children the science is clear, exposure to lead can cause irreversible and life-long health effects,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a news release. “Aircraft that use leaded fuel are the dominant source of lead emissions to air in the country. Today’s proposal is an important step forward as we work to reduce lead exposure and protect children’s health.”

According to the news release, the EPA’s consideration of endangerment is “a first step toward application of EPA’s authority to address lead pollution.” 

“That was just two months ago,” Fronapfel said. “And since then, we’ve been trying to address this issue with the local FAA, trying to get them to revisit how they manage the … pattern traffic, to keep it soft over Arapahoe Road whenever possible.” 

Fronapfel said the Centennial Airport reached out to all of its fixed-base operators, which are organizations that provide fueling at an airport, and flight schools about if they would be willing to transition to an unleaded fuel source, and they all said they’re open to it. 

“I think we have a lot of stakeholders that are moving in the right direction,” Fronapfel said.

Next steps 

Brad Pierce, the chair of the noise roundtable, highlighted the importance of setting up another time for the officials to respond to the comments and questions residents raised during the meeting. 

“We need to figure out a way after the meeting or some other time to respond, and that includes the FAA folks on the line,” he said.

The following day, Dec. 8, the Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority Board of Commissioners held a meeting at Centennial Airport, also drawing many attendees. 

During the meeting, Nancy Sharpe, an Arapahoe County commissioner and the chair of the board whose term expires in February 2023, said she would like for there to be a meeting held with the noise roundtable, the board members, airport leadership and the FAA to address the resident questions.

“I am definitely committed to asking someone who will be on this board, and the others I’ve mentioned, for us to sit down, you know, in the next week,” Sharpe said. “Let’s find a time and go through all of the things and the concerns that were expressed, and be more specific about who is going to do what, and who can do what.”

Centennial Airport, FAA, Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable, Douglas County, Arapahoe County, Greenwood Village, aircraft noise

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