BY FREDA MIKLIN
In 2017, Centennial Airport, located 20 miles south-southwest of Denver International Airport, at 7565 S. Peoria Street in unincorporated Arapahoe County, was rated by General Aviation News as the third busiest general aviation airport in the United States. Today, the Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) calls it one of the 25 busiest airports in the nation, based on the number of take-offs and landings, which it pegs at 1,000 per day. Using the more common standard of the number of passengers served daily, Denver International Airport is the fifth busiest in the U.S., seeing 33.6 million passengers annually. The number of take-offs and landings is the statistic that matters to Coloradans who live in the vicinity of Centennial Airport, because it is that activity level that impacts them, not the number of passengers on each plane.
It has been well reported that there is a nationwide pilot shortage, which has led to increased activity at flight schools everywhere. According to bestaviation.net, Aspen Flying Club, Flights Inc., and Independence Aviation operate flight schools out of Centennial Airport. Mike Fronapfel, executive director and CEO at Centennial Airport, was recently reported to have said there were four flight schools and two clubs conducting training activities there.
Quiet Skies Over Arapahoe County (Quiet Skies), a citizen group organized to address what many feel is the excessive, intrusive activity from the airport that is increasingly impacting neighborhoods, reports there were an average of 2,826 “aircraft operations associated with Centennial Airport defined as training” every month from January 2019 through October 2022, the last month for which data is available, and the month with the highest number yet, 3,465. A “training operation” is defined as one training flight take-off and landing. Exacerbating the problem is that touch-and-go landings, where a plane touches down but then goes back up instead of landing, is an important part of pilot training and can occur multiple times during one training flight. Decelerating, then accelerating creates significant noise, as well as lead emissions, since these planes generally are single-engine and use leaded fuel.
Quiet Skies has gotten the attention of our state’s leading elected officials, who displayed a clear understanding of the issues in a recent letter to the FAA. On December 14, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, along with U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, in whose district Centennial Airport is located, wrote a letter to Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. They cited an incident on May 12, 2021 when two small planes collided over Cherry Creek State Park while attempting to land at Centennial Airport. (No injuries were reported from the accident). That incident, the elected officials pointed out, led the FAA to “shift the air traffic pattern for the area without consulting the airport or the community, resulting in increased traffic over residential areas.” The letter continued, “Residents have relayed concerns related to this traffic pattern change, including those from noise pollution and potential lead pollution due to the leaded fuel used by single-engine planes. Other concerns include an increase in in-flight school flights, specifically noise attributable to repeated touch-and-go operations, and the anticipated growth in flights out of this airport.” Bennet, Hickenlooper and Crow asked the FAA to respond to an October 19 letter from Fronapfel about “Complaints and concerns from Greenwood Village residents,” that said that the 30 GV residents who met with airport staff on September 13 comprised “a very agitated and frustrated community that is threatening to pursue legal action against the FAA.” One of the requests Fronapfel made in the October 19 letter was to “see if it is possible to keep the training pattern aircraft south of Arapahoe Road, east of I-25 and north of Lincoln Avenue whenever possible.”
The Senators’ and Congressman’s intervention drew a prompt, if not entirely satisfying response. In a letter dated December 16 responding to Fronapfel’s October 19 correspondence, FAA Regional Administrator Grady Stone said, “Airport traffic pattern procedures are designed to enhance safety and improve the flow of traffic at an airport… Extending either the upwind or downwind of traffic in the pattern to Runway 17R results from sequencing traffic or an increased volume in the touch-and-go pattern and, as such, cannot be confined for noise abatement. If there is no conflicting traffic—which often allows the pilot to determine the timing of the crosswind or base— it falls to the pilot to follow the voluntary noise abatement guidelines.”
Stone agreed that the FAA would review two of Fronapfel’s suggestions “to assess the feasibility, risks, and impacts” of the requested changes. He also noted that, “Public airports, like KAPA (Centennial), are restricted by laws enacted by Congress from unilaterally banning certain types of flight activity, including pilot flight training, military operations, and enforcing mandatory curfews.”
Stone indicated that the FAA would attend future meetings of the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable if asked to do so, but did not commit to attending in person, rather than virtually.
The Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable meets on the first Wednesday of every month at Centennial Airport, 7565 South Peoria Street, Englewood CO 80112. You can also attend virtually by registering at: https://centennialairport.com/noise-roundtable.
Elected officials who represent their residents as members of the Centennial Airport Community Noise Roundtable include Greenwood Village City Council Members Libby Barnacle and Donna Johnston, Centennial City Council Members Candace Moon and Don Sheehan, Cherry Hills Village City Council Member Al Blum, and Arapahoe County Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully.
The Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority monthly meetings are at the same address in Room 115 on the second Thursday of each month except July at 3:30 pm, beginning February 9th. Registration to attend virtually can be found at: https://centennial
You can keep up with their activities on Quiet Skies’ website, bit.ly/quietskies.