Unlike the skies in major metropolitan areas in Southern California, the skies over Idyllwild are not crowded with roaring jet aircraft and crisscrossing contrails.
Many residents enjoy the quality of life on the Hill, with a preference for raptors circling overhead and the wind whistling through the trees.
But recently, a few people have noted an increase in aircraft activity and noise over the area.
Jets have been observed doing flybys, flips and doughnuts. Windows in homes have rattled — but not because of earthquakes — and the sound of ‘deep thunder’ has caused concern among neighbors who wonder about the source of the extraordinary booming sounds.
Pine Cove resident Keith McCabe described the aircraft noise as “quite loud. It’s way too much, lasts too long — and the airplanes fly way too low.
“It starts at 5 in the morning and goes on until 2 and 3 in the morning. It’s been [happening] at least three or four months.”
Without exact dates and times and other descriptions of the aircraft, it is not possible to discern exactly what McCAbe and other Hill residents heard and saw.
Regional law enforcement and public safety agencies weren’t responsible. The Town Crier contacted the U.S. Forest Service; Cal Fire/Riverside County; the Hemet Sheriff’s Station; California Highway Patrol; Hemet-Ryan Airport; and the Palm Springs Police Department Aero Squadron.
Neither had conducted fixed-wing aircraft operations, training, exercises or rescues above or in the vicinity of Idyllwild between about December 2017 and February-March 2018.
Any observed increases in aircraft activity over Idyllwild had nothing to do with controlled burns or fire suppression.
U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Zach Behrens, said, “All of our planes were gone by that point in time. We have our air tanker base here, but the planes only come for the core fire season.”
Public Information Officer Capt. Fernando Herrera of Cal Fire/Riverside County suggested that the air-traffic issues may be related to traffic headed to music festivals, tennis and golf tournaments in the Coachella Valley.
CHP Public Information Officer Josh Nelson said, “The CHP wasn’t aware of any training, operations or anything during that time that matches the description of activity in the vicinity of Idyllwild.
“We oversee air operations in Idyllwild and have rescues from time to time, but nothing that is ongoing or continuous in that area.”
Riverside County Sheriff’s Media Information Bureau staff Sgt. Chris Williston said, “The department handles routine calls. Nothing has been out of the ordinary.”
Commercial aircraft spotted traveling at high speeds and at cruise altitudes over Idyllwild are identifiable perhaps not by the naked eye, but on the Internet — and in real time — including operating airlines, destinations, flight paths, altitudes and more.
The Town Crier captured screenshots of four morning flights departing from LAX during a 20-minute period April 12. Three of the aircraft were Dallas-bound and one was bound for Nashville, Tennessee.
The planes flew at speeds more than 600-plus miles per hour at altitudes of 25,100 to 31,900 feet over Idyllwild.
At high altitudes, those planes may or may not have been seen — weather permitting — but altitude, weather conditions (wind, temperature and humidity), and a number of other factors probably influenced noise levels heard on the ground April 12, and during the time McCabe observed unusual aircraft activity over Idyllwild.
Engine noise at high altitudes may dissipate before reaching ground-level or be amplified.
Doe said he was certain of two things: “It’s the Metroplex and March Air Base aircraft. Ospreys fly over our houses. I saw two the other day.”
The Town Crier reached out to March Air Reserve Base to discuss air traffic over Idyllwild, but was unable to reach base personnel by press time.
The reporter contacted the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the Southern California Metroplex (also known as NextGen). New aircraft routing procedures were deployed in 2016-17 to improve the efficiency of arrivals and departures.
The Metroplex changed aircraft flight paths and altitudes at LAX, Ontario, John Wayne, San Diego, Palm Springs International and other Southern California airports.
Air traffic control transitioned from radar ground control to satellite-based and digital technologies. The new procedures were “not expected to require any ground disturbance nor increase the number of aircraft operations,” according to the FAA.
The flight path revision process kicked off with release of initial environmental documents in June 2015 and culminated in September 2016 with a decision by the FAA that the project would not have a significant impact on the environment.
The new procedures were put in place between November 2016 and April 2017.
According to documents released by the Los Angeles World Airports, the FAA held 11 public workshops in locations throughout Southern California; conducted about 79 briefings; and provided additional public outreach during the implementation phase of the project to give the public, officials, and professional agency staff opportunities to review and comment on proposals.
Several communities in Southern California are seeking relief from increased noise, low-altitude flyovers, pollution and adverse effects on quality of life associated with Metroplex’s new procedures.
In an email to the Town Crier inquiries, Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for FAA’s Pacific Division said, he “believed the FAA had received concerns from the Idyllwild area,” but was away from the office and unable to discuss specific complaints before press time.
The Benedict Hills Estates Association (et al.) is challenging the FAA et al. over the new flight paths. Other petitioners in the lawsuit include the City of Culver City and the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association. The City of Los Angeles and the West Adams for Clear Skies have filed an Amici Curiae (friends of the court) brief supporting the litigation.
Laguna Beach officials recently settled with the FAA to reduce noise from low-altitude flight stemming from the new procedures at John Wayne Airport.
Residents in Lake Arrowhead were concerned about the new procedures which led to routing planes from Ontario International Airport directly over their neighborhoods and were working with the FAA to resolve issues.
The Town Crier will update this story as new information becomes available.
For more information on the Metroplex project, see www.metroplexenvironmental.com.