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Milder Weather Should Bring Quieter Skies to Alameda

Warmer, milder, weather should mean for quieter skies over Alameda. In wet, rainy winter weather, roughly 15% of the time, San Francisco airport switches to a “Southeast Plan” for arrivals and departures, which routes aircraft directly over Alameda.

Most of the time, SFO operates on what is known as the “West Plan” which has aircraft arriving generally over the Peninsula and/or the lower San Francisco Bay and landing at San Francisco Airport (SFO) on one of two runways, 28L and 28R, toward the west, at a compass heading of 280 degrees. In wet weather, SFO changes to the “Southeast Plan,” which has aircraft arriving on runways 19L and 19R – directly over Alameda – at a compass heading of 190 degrees.

The image below is captured from SFO’s “fly quiet” website, and shows the frequency, or density, of aircraft arrivals for different paths into SFO. The dark red in the lower right-hand corner shows that most arriving aircraft fly over the Bay from the east to land at SFO. Alameda, Bay Farm Island and Oakland Airport are visible in the top and top right of the image. The white track from Alameda to SFO represents the lower frequency of flight arrivals over Alameda to SFO.

San Francisco Airport Arrival Density

Airplanes need to fly into the wind for take-off and landing; flight patterns around an airport are determined by prevailing wind direction. To some degree, flight patterns are also impacted by the size of the aircraft and the available runways – heavier aircraft generally require longer runways for take-off and landing. At San Francisco Airport, the longest runways are those in an east-west orientation (10L/10R and 28L/28R).

How much aircraft noise that Alameda residents hear under the Southeast Plan can depend on the aircraft, and the altitude of that craft over Alameda. Data provided to Action Alameda News for 2009 shows that, on average, planes arriving on runway 19L – anywhere from an Airbus A320 to a Boeing 747 – flew as low as 2,966 feet over the measurement point of the intersection of Park Street and Santa Clara. For planes arriving on runway 19R, the lowest altitude was 2,887 feet. The maximum average altitude, for runways 19L and 19R, was 4,452 (C5 aircraft) and 5,164.

Our contact through the SFO Noise Abatement program referred us to Michael McCarron, an airport spokesperson, for comment for attribution, who did not respond by press time.

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