Airport noise our fault, not theirs

Posted 7/28/09

When I was in the midst of the ear-infection phase all kids seem to go through, I remember being almost dropped to my knees by the noise of a …

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Airport noise our fault, not theirs


When I was in the midst of the ear-infection phase all kids seem to go through, I remember being almost dropped to my knees by the noise of a helicopter passing over my parents' house.

We lived 2-3 miles as the crow flies from a hospital and the helicopter was on its way there to transport a patient.

This was a long time ago, before the slick, duty-specific Air Life helicopters were used for such tasks. So the helicopter in question was an army Huey, one of the indelible symbols of the Vietnam War.

Even when your ear parts aren't swollen to the brink of their limits, these helicopters are incredibly loud. I usually loved listening to them fly over, but I was running for cover that day.

Loud aircraft over my head wasn't unusual when I was growing up. If you pull out a map of Colorado Springs and draw a line from the Air Force Academy to Peterson Air Force Base, you'll probably put a mark right over my parents' house. Sometimes, jets buzzed overhead. Mostly, though, we put up with the droning of enormous C-130 transport planes flying in and out of Pete Field, as we called it.

This wasn't always convenient, but neither are a lot of things. My parents still live in that house and every fourth or fifth time I'm on the phone with them as they relax on their back porch, the conversation pauses while an Air Force plane passes over, making it impossible to hear.

Through all of this, it never once occurred to us to complain to the hospital for sending helicopters over our house. We never asked the Air Force if they wouldn't mind routing their C-130s over the eastern plains so our conversations could go on uninterrupted.

We didn't do it because it was just part of living where we lived. The Air Force installations predated our time there. The hospital was built after we moved in, but who doesn't want a hospital close by?

I bring this up because we've had some news in our papers recently about noise at Centennial Airport. First, we had a story about a grant that will pay for measurement of noise levels around the airport. This, of course, is a response to complaints about noise and the hope is that more detailed information will lead to workable compromises. This week, we have a story about a vintage aircraft making an emergency landing in a Douglas County field, which some home owners who don't like the noise are using as ammunition for their argument that flight patterns come too close to their homes.

In these discussions, it seems like a lot of venom is thrown the way of Centennial Airport Director Robert Olislagers.

It's just unfair.

Centennial Airport celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, which means the airport predates many, if not all, of the residential and business development where these complaints originate.

What seems to get pushed aside in some of these discussions is that development invaded the airport's space, not the other way around. It wasn't by accident, either. Early developers of the Denver Tech Center saw the nearby airport as a great asset. Much of Centennial Airport's busy departure and arrival schedule is made up of business travelers who see the airport's proximity to one of Denver's great commercial hubs as one of its advantages over Denver International Airport.

In many ways, I think Centennial Airport is an asset to our community. Aside from the practical benefits to our business community and economy in general, there isn't much about being close to a general aviation airport that's home to war birds of all kinds and a gateway for celebrity visits to Denver that doesn't appeal to the kid in me. Spend some time with Olislagers, and you'll know he recognizes he has a very cool job. But the political aspects of his job are something I wouldn't wish on anyone.

As the grant money is spent and solutions to the noise problems are discussed, a little perspective would be nice. Olislagers is trying to find solutions to problems he, and the airport he runs, didn't create. He has to be part of the compromises to come and accountable for his end of the conversation about how much traffic is too much. But the overall accountability must be shared, to some degree, with the people whose lack of planning allowed development so close to the airport during the past 41 years.

The lion's share of the accountability must land on the home owners who bought those homes in the flight path of the airport and now expect the airport to accommodate them.

And yes, there are times when the airplane noise that interrupts my phone conversations on my back porch in Parker comes from planes over my head. I don't blame anyone. My biggest complaint — why can't that passing plane be a really cool P-51 Mustang a little more often.

Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community Newspapers.



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