Noise around Centennial Airport has neighbors begging the FAA for relief


The incessant buzz of flight school prop planes circling overhead makes Audra Dubler’s Greenwood Village neighborhood sound like a “war zone.”

“If it’s not windy or snowing, they are out,” Dubler said. “It sounds like planes are crashing every 38 seconds.”

A raft of recent complaints about aircraft noise north of Centennial Airport — the second busiest general aviation airport in the country with 350 landings and takeoffs of prop planes per day — has pitted airport officials against the Federal Aviation Administration, and last week, landed on the radar of Colorado lawmakers in Washington.

“We’re hoping the FAA reviews how it manages the training traffic and returns to the previous way they managed the traffic so it affects fewer households,” said Mike Fronapfel, executive director and CEO of Centennial Airport.

The previous way, according to Fronapfel, was contained to an area south of Arapahoe Road that largely spared neighborhoods of flight activity. The FAA adjusted the pattern for flight school traffic taking off and landing at Centennial Airport following a mid-air collision of two small planes over Cherry Creek reservoir in May 2021.

No one was injured in the crash.

“Effectively, they have spread the pattern out now,” Fronapfel said. “As a result of that change, communities are experiencing more training traffic over their homes.”

There are four flight training schools at Centennial Airport, along with two flight clubs that also fly prop planes. Fronapfel said the airport doesn’t have the authority to limit how many flights those schools put into the sky.

“They are busier than they have been in many years because there’s such a shortage of pilots,” he said.

The FAA’s response to last year’s collision, Fronapfel said, wasn’t reasonable given that it was the only incident of its kind out of more than 16 million takeoffs and landings that have taken place at Centennial Airport since the facility opened in 1968.

The FAA didn’t respond to several requests from The Denver Post for comment but Grady Stone, regional administrator of the FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region, sent a letter to Centennial Airport this week in response to one the airport sent the agency two months ago.

In it, Stone wrote that the extension of the flight pattern at the airport was the result of a need to better sequence planes as an increasing number of them engage in touch-and-go maneuvers, where the pilot touches the ground and then immediately takes to the air again.

The new pattern, Stone wrote, “cannot be confined for noise abatement.”

Chris Thompson, an airport spokesman, said the letter was “certainly not the response we were hoping for.”

“But I believe there is some hope that the letter the Colorado congressional delegation sent last week might push the FAA to at least engage in actual dialogue,” he said.

That letter sent to FAA headquarters, dated Dec. 14, was signed by U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, along with U.S. Rep. Jason Crow. The lawmakers urged the agency to improve its communication with the airport and the communities around it and to consider “revisiting changes made by the FAA to the air traffic pattern.”

The senators and congressman also noted residents’ concerns about potential lead pollution from “leaded fuel used by single-engine planes.” Last summer, the environmental group Earthjustice ranked Centennial Airport as the fourth most lead-emitting airport in the nation.

Mount Evans and other peaks rise above buildings around Centennial Airport on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Mount Evans, soon to be Mount Blue Sky, and other peaks rise above buildings around Centennial Airport on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Noise complaints this year — 5,405 through last Friday — are actually down from previous years, according to airport data. In 2018, there were 6,877 complaints while during the following year, there were nearly 6,000. Those numbers rose to more than 10,000 complaints in 2020 and nearly 13,000 in 2021, increases Fronapfel attributed to people working from home during the pandemic.


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