Common questions about the airport and aircraft noise

Fundamentals of Aircraft Noise

A noise abatement procedure is the recommended flight path aircraft follow to minimize noise while in transit over a populated area. Pilots may decide not to follow the noise abatement procedure due to safety concerns or operating limitations. For some noise abatement procedures, a pilot must be able to see specific visual cues. If the visual cues are not visible, the pilot will be unable to follow the noise abatement procedure safely. Other procedures rely on the capabilities of navigational equipment.
Aircraft operating at Oakland International Airport produce a diverse range of noise levels that depend primarily on the type of engine used by the aircraft, the size of the aircraft, and whether the aircraft is taxiing on the airfield, landing, or taking off. The newest aircraft – often called “full Stage 3” – tend to be the quietest aircraft in the fleet. Stage 2 compliant aircraft that have been retrofitted to meet Stage 3 regulations tend to be the loudest. Departures are often louder than arrivals since the pilot forces more power to the engine to achieve lift.
Nighttime noise events seem louder compared to daytime noise events due to lower ambient noise levels.

Oakland International Airport

Oakland International Airport (OAK) is a primary commercial service airport with four runways: one primary air carrier runway at South Field (Runway 12-30) and three runways at North Field (Runway 10R-28L, Runway 10L-28R, and Runway 15-33). OAK is served by several passenger and cargo airlines. According to Airports Council International-North America, in calendar year 2016, OAK accommodated 12.1 million annual passengers (enplaning plus deplaning) and was the 40th busiest airport in the U.S. in terms of total passengers.
South Field, which is defined as the Airport area south of Ron Cowan Parkway, is a complex of passenger facilities, including Terminals 1 and 2, and air cargo facilities, the largest of which is the FedEx Metroplex (their West Coast hub operation). North Field is the Airport area north of Ron Cowan Parkway, and accommodates a variety of aviation land uses including general aviation, aircraft hangars, ramps, and two fixed base operators: KaiserAir and Signature Flight. North Field also accommodates some air cargo facilities.
The decrease in the noise impact area for the Oakland Airport during the past decade is expected to continue because of newer and quieter technology aircraft. Development of the next generation of aircraft (Stage 4) is well underway, promising quieter planes in the future.

Noise Complaints and Your Home

The Noise Management Office will log your complaint in the complaint database. The Noise Management Office investigates all complaints by new callers and callers who desire specific information about noise events and aircraft activity. When appropriate, staff follows up with aircraft operators and/or the FAA to investigate what action can be taken to minimize noise in the future. Although all aircraft noise complaints are documented and routinely reported, Noise Management Office staff do not typically investigate each complaint made by callers due to the repetitive nature of complaints.
The Noise Management Office documents noise complaints by obtaining information from the caller about the nature of the complaint, time of the occurrence, and location of the caller’s residence; date and time of the occurrence are most critical. Staff uses this information to help determine the activity responsible for the complaint and, when requested, will provide a report or a letter to the caller.
The Oakland International Airport never sleeps. Like most commercial airports in the US, OAK operates 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. However, the Port of Oakland, in coordination with the FAA, airport users, and community representatives, has developed preferred nighttime aircraft procedures that help mitigate aircraft noise over residential areas. Wind and weather permitting, these procedures are designed to keep aircraft over the bay and to avoid residential areas as much as possible.
Oakland International Airport has completed the sound insulation program in the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Get more information here on the sound insulation program, including what noise levels qualify.

Flight Paths

No. The FAA controls and regulates the airspace. Any change in departure or arrival flight paths must be approved and implemented by the FAA. The noise office is here to help with communications between the airport, the FAA, and the local community.
Commercial pilots fly prescribed routes. General aviation pilots also fly prescribed routes as well as visual flight procedures (VFR) to and from Oakland International Airport as instructed by air traffic controllers. The FAA is responsible for managing Oakland’s airspace in addition to ensuring the safe and expeditious flow of traffic. The Port of Oakland is responsible for operating and maintaining airport facilities and for ensuring that runways, taxiways, and other facilities are in good working condition, meet FAA regulations, and are available for use.
The Noise Management Office uses software Airport Noise and Operations Monitoring System or ANOMS. This system collects noise data from sixteen remote noise monitoring terminals and portable noise monitoring equipment as well as flight track data from the FAA. ANOMS is the primary tool used by the Noise Office to research complaints and to monitor noise abatement procedures and programs.

Winds in the Bay Area predominantly blow from west to east. With winds from the west, the North Flow air traffic pattern, referred to as the “West Plan,” is in effect. When wind direction in the Bay Area reverses and comes from the southeast, the South Flow air traffic pattern, referred to as the “Southeast Plan,” is in effect. The FAA alters the traffic pattern to the Southeast Plan when weather conditions such as winter storms shift the wind direction. Historical data collected for the years 1999-2001 by the Airport Noise Management Office demonstrates that 91.5 percent of all arrivals and departures occur when the Airport is operating in the West Plan, which generally involves arrivals from the south and departures to the north. Because arrival and departure patterns differ under the two plans, noise related to aircraft events is experienced differently depending on which plan is in effect. Under West Plan conditions, areas to the north of the Airport experience noise related to departing aircraft, whereas areas to the south experience aircraft arrival noise. Under the Southeast Plan, the opposite effects occur.

The Southeast Plan is perceived by the public as a dramatic change in the air traffic patterns, generating public reaction and aircraft noise complaints. Below are flight track maps displaying Bay Area air traffic patterns associated with Oakland International Airport (OAK), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and San Jose International Airport (SJC) during the West Plan and the Southeast Plan. Southeast Plan air traffic routes are frequently implemented during winter months. When these procedures are in place, jets will fly over northern East Bay communities on arrival routes to both Oakland and San Francisco International Airport. As displayed by the flight track map, SFO aircraft arrival tracks intersect with OAK aircraft arrival tracks in the North Bay Area. To keep these aircraft safely separated, air traffic routes have been established by the FAA to maintain the SFO arrivals above the OAK arrivals. Download the Southeast Plan PDF.