Charbonneau man tracks Aurora Airport flights
Charbonneau residents, some of the most vocal detractors of plans to expand the Aurora Airport runway, have consistently complained of noisy planes flying over the community to and from the airport at all hours of the day.
That complaint had been buttressed mostly by anecdotal testimonies. However, from the comfort of his home office, Charbonneau resident Pat Hickman has tried to meticulously catalog such inconveniences. In the past 15 months or so, he has documented over 3,000 flights that have flown over the planned community south of the Willamette River in Wilsonville.
"I've taken it on as a personal activity," Hickman said. "I'm an advocate for Charbonneau and the greater community to somehow have this data help in some way to (spark) changes to the airport so we can reduce and minimize noise."
Hickman moved to Charbonneau more than three years ago and soon noticed what Charbonneau residents have been frustrated with for some time — aircraft traveling to and from the Aurora Airport loudly flying over their homes. The Aurora Airport air traffic control tower advises pilots to avoid Charbonneau on their flight path but compliance is voluntary.
In the middle of a long career in the audio electronics industry, Hickman says he's more attuned to sound levels than most.
"I do a lot of gardening and outdoor activities around the house, and I noticed a lot of aircraft flying over us all the time. It got to be quite loud and quite active over the last couple years," Hickman said.
So he decided to begin talking with community leaders in Charbonneau concerned with the issue. Then, he agreed to embark on the flight project.
Hickman was familiar with the program Flight Aware, which tracks the trajectory of flights around the world and information about the aircraft. So using that data as well as his own observations watching planes and jets fly over his home every day, he has logged as many of those flights as he can onto a spreadsheet.
And he sends such information daily to Charbonneau residents and other pertinent groups, including the Oregon Department of Aviation. Hickman also has presented his data at Charbonneau Country Club and to a group of airport stakeholders, Positive Aurora Airport Management.
"He's an analytic person and very methodical. And he knows something about aviation. He volunteered to start capturing the data," said Ben Williams, president of Friends of French Prairie. "There's nothing like objective data to define a problem or make a case."
Last Tuesday, for example, Hickman documented 11 planes traveling over Charbonneau.
"If you look at the data, it's rather eye-opening how many violations of the recommended flight patterns or noise there are," Williams said.
Hickman hasn't yet synthesized the data, but a couple of his major takeaways are that many of the flights that travel over Charbonneau are corporate jets and planes coming from the flight schools based at the airport and that instances of planes flying over Charbonneau are increasing.
"Two particular things I'm seeing is the smaller single-engine private planes, which are normally based in Aurora, are increasing in overflights. Most of the smaller ones are smaller operations that have training or schooling. They are flying over us a lot; why that's continuing to increase I don't know. I can show many per day that are the same people who do it over and over," he said.
Hickman also said about 15-18 percent of the flights he has tracked coming into or out of the airport fly over Charbonneau. Wayne Richards, the civic affairs chairman for Charbonneau Country Club, has heard airport advocates repeatedly say that the percentage is around 3 percent.
"Pat actually pounced them and has the tail numbers and what kind of airplane it is. It's really hard evidence of the fact that those are misleading numbers they are putting out," Richards said.
Hickman says this discrepancy is because they have different views of what counts as a flight. Hickman says he looks at flights that leave and enter the airport while the ODA counts flights that don't leave the airport.
However, Hickman admits that his comments in the spreadsheet about whether the airplane could have taken measures to lessen the noise over Charbonneau are subjective and based on limited information.
Nevertheless, Richards says the data further proves the case against expansion at the Aurora Airport. The status of the Aurora Airport Master Plan, which includes the runway extension, is currently under dispute and the ODA is scheduled to consider the matter at a meeting Oct. 31 in Sunriver.
Hickman believes part of the cause for overflights is that Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACON), the Portland-based air traffic control center that controls high-altitude air traffic, often tells pilots to fly over Charbonneau toward other destinations without considering the effects to the local community.
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