Suit Launched To Halt Touch And Goes At Jeffco

56

The town of Superior, Colorado and Boulder County are suing neighboring Jefferson County and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (often call Jeffco), which is owned by Jefferson County, to force them to ban touch and goes at the busy training airport. Citing “negative and unreasonable health impacts” from noise and lead pollution, the city and county say they’ve tried for years to get their next-door neighbors to respond to their concerns but instead activity at the airport has steadily increased. Operations increased from 191,553 in 2019 to 281,806 in 2023 and the vast majority are training flights from the four flight schools on the sprawling 1,700-acre field.

The plaintiffs say they’re not trying to get rid of the airport, just force it to be a better neighbor. “The Town and Boulder County are not seeking monetary damages, are not trying to close the Airport, are not trying to limit which aircraft can use the Airport, and are not asking Jefferson County to do anything it is not expressly authorized to do,” the plaintiffs said in a news release. They say banning touch and goes will go a long way toward making the airport more tolerable to the residents and businesses across the county line. Despite the careful targeting of the suit, it’s likely the FAA will have something to say about municipal governments trying to limit aviation operations, which have so far withstood numerous legal challenges to the federal authority over those activities.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

56 COMMENTS

    • Those are entirely logical and reasonable questions. Unfortunately, I doubt that logic or reason will have much to do with these proceedings.

    • I do not know where the idea that “I was here first so can do what I like,” comes from with respect to airports.
      Using that logic the cattle ranchers, farmers and other land owners from before the airport was built will have more right to the land than the airport.
      To allow 90,000 more flights a year over complaining neighbours in four years is reckless.
      Calling for touch a goes is a reasonable proposition, rejecting it will lead to calls for ever more restrictions, (time, flight paths, noise meters). If you think not, just see how airports are forced to operate in more crowded countries.

      • The cattle ranchers don’t own the airport.
        You shouldn’t complain about the smell if you choose to live next door to a cattle farm, eh?

        On the other hand, it’s long past time that GA airplanes were made more neighbour friendly. Big-bore engines with straight pipes and noisy propeller designs were fine in the 20th century, not today.

        • Every time one of those big-engine small planes throttles up for takeoff, prop set to fine pitch and prop tips going supersonic, I cringe and think “there goes the airport”.

          AOPA did a test flight some years ago with a larger Cessna and found that if you held RPM down to a lower – and MUCH quieter – value, you got shorter takeoff distance and better rate of climb.

        • The FAA is by far the most responsible for the destruction of innovation in light aircraft. Sue them if you can.

      • Judging from the photo, the short runway for T&G’s does not even launch over the city. There is no problem.

      • To answer your question Mr. Patson, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “I Was Here First” argument doesn’t go back to Cro-Magnon times. Essentially, ownership of land was primarily, “Who has the most biggest club, and the ability to fight off encroachers?”

        With respect to airports, a great deal of time, effort, and bureaucracy must be sacrificed in order to bring a municipal airport into existence. I don’t know about JeffCo, but it would be informative to see an aerial map of the facility and the land surrounding it when it was built. I assure you that those landowners had more than ample opportunity to voice their concerns. That is part of why it takes so long to build a new public aerodrome. (Meeting FAA standards are another thing altogether.)

        I’m sure some of the complainants will argue, “But it was a nice _quiet_ airport, then.” Well, that toddler you brought into your nice new subdivision house is a lot bigger, noisier, obnoxious, and expensive than he was then, too. What did you expect? Nothing stays the same. Don’t tell me you believed your real estate agent’s lies, and expect me to keep a straight face.

        So now you want JeffCo, which is paying a hell of a lot more in taxes than you are, employing a hell of a lot more people, and has a far greater impact on your region that you do, to pay a price for your lack of foresight?

      • John Patson, I’m not sure how well logic works for you. Said cattle ranchers probably sold the land to the county for the creation of the airport decades ago. The airport and the flight schools aren’t doing “what I like”, they are exercising THEIR RIGHT to do flight training. You understand, so that you can get on an airline and go fly to wherever your heart desires. Piloted by pilot you can feel confident have performed a few takeoff and landings.

      • Not sure if the fact that over 600,000 people have moved to the Denver metro area factors into your thinking here. With the additional people there are going to be additional pilots, regardless if they are learning to fly or experienced.

        T&G’s are one of the most fundamental skills for a pilot to learn and can easily be one of the deadliest if they aren’t practiced. These have to be done at airports. Boulder hates them, Longmont hates them, Erie hates them. So telling pilots to “go somewhere else” isn’t an answer. These skills must be performed somewhere.

        And 90k additional operations isn’t unsafe if your are following the directives of the control tower – which oversees the pattern at BJC.

        Additionally it isn’t an airspace that you “do what you want”, you do what you’re told to – or you die. Simple as that.

        Lastly – there is a well documented chain going back to the 80’s advising to NOT build the communities in the area of influence around the airport. So yeah… ignore the advisories to not build or buy there at your own peril. The guidance is provided for a reason. If buying there is ignored, I mean you kinda get what your deserve.

      • I think it matters just as much as a highway does and for just as good of reasons. Why do you see a difference? Is every highway in the US to be put in jeopardy because the neighbors do not like the increased noise made by modern, fuel saving tires?
        Besides that, it so happens that it was reported here that another group suing live in homes where they had to sign at closing that they were aware of the airport. They are all welcome to sell to people more amenable to the compromise of the noise for decreased value which they no doubt took advantage of when they bought their homes built next to an airport just like people who buy homes next to a highway.

  1. All over the country, real estate developers play the long game (decades & decades of generational wealth) when it comes to airports. First, they buy up all the cheaper land around the airport (the local politicians, fueled by the developers contributions, allow them to build up to the airport boundaries, fully aware of what is to come), then build homes that are sold for lower prices than similar homes not near an airport. They then encourage those same homeowners to scream loudly about noise (& lead poisoning), then the local politicians (which are lobbied by these same real estate developers!) cave to the loudest group of voices and call for restrictions (or worse, closing of the airport), voting for choking restrictions, taxes & fees that are implemented on airport operations and, when the airport finally closes, the same real estate developers swoop in and make even more money redeveloping the now closed airport. All of the close-in homeowners laugh all the way to the bank with more valuable home values! All they had to do was scream & cry the loudest. Rinse and repeat all across the US. Really sad state of affairs for GA and those that love the freedom to fly… This is the life cycle of GA airports, unless we can break the cycle of politicians allowing development close to airports to begin with! That will be a tall order. Don’t forget – never has there been a new airport developed right in the middle of residential housing but the reverse happens constantly.

  2. Do we mean the lead that now through recent studies doesn’t actually have an impact?

    I’m sorry, you know the airport is there, you know the planes are there when you buy around an airport. This is one time I think the FAA gets it right. STFU, we own the airspace and rights. This will go nowhere, there is no legal reason they can shut down T&G’s. If the airport authority decides to do something, that’s different. Just moves the problem somewhere else.

    We bought a home that at closing you sign a document that you live within the “airspace” Class D BTW, and that we know there are airplanes, airplane noise and waive all rights to sue. Funny, people still try after signing saying they didn’t actually read the documents. Because there are so many at closing.

    • Did you buy your home from the airport? Who did you waive your rights to, and for what consideration?

      • The consideration of a lower price just like people who buy next to anything that detracts from the value unless they are fools.

        • If I sold you a house under the approach pattern, only showed you the place at night, and claimed that it was ideal for a night shift worker, then you might have valid claims to sue me. And I might have a waiver written into the contract.

          But nothing in that contract prevents you from suing the airport.

          And hence my question: Who did you waive your rights to?

          • If your only inspection was of the property at night, and you bought the property, then you waived your right to be counted as a responsible adult to everyone.

            Stop being silly and bringing up moot points. It was reported here that the nice homes near this airport had to sign a notice that they were informed about the nearby airport.

            Also, as I’ve mentioned before, how is this different than a highway? Shall we not have highways?

    • “ Do we mean the lead that now through recent studies doesn’t actually have an impact?”

      Citation needed. Because the lawsuit is full of references to studies about the effects of lead from aircraft on land & health quality over time.

      The former airport manager’s comment (item 150 in the referenced filing) “they can’t prove it is from us,” doesn’t help the JeffCo cause. Probably why he’s the former manager.

  3. I’m a farmer. People, especially city people, don’t understand farming. Indeed some are suspicious of it or think it’s a blight on the environment. They don’t associate farming with the food in the supermarkets that keeps them alive.

    People, especially city people, don’t understand aviation. Indeed some hate aviation and airports. They don’t associate airports, and training, and touch and goes, with the skilled pilots that fly them on business, or vacations, or fly defending their country, and keep them alive.

    What’s the answer? I don’t know. I do know that people (and politicians) these days have no idea of cause and effect. Make life hard for farmers and we won’t bother to grow your food. Make life hard for training pilots and they won’t bother to become pilots. In both cases there are easier ways to make money. Farmers and pilots rarely do it for the money but for the love of it.

  4. Having been the Chief Flying Instructor and boss at many training airfields I’m very familiar with these issues. People live beside busy main roads and never complain. I my view unless a home is below the approach/departure paths noise isn’t the real issue. The real issue is the loss of privacy, as they see it, from above.

    At my last job I was asked by the board to set up a committee to be made up with local political representatives. It was enlightening to learn how small a percentage of the local population made up the group of repetitive complainers. It wasn’t long before the local councillors got fed up with the often rude and aggressive people making most of the complaints and then started to defend us. It also became clear to all that most didn’t care how their neighbours were affected as long as their individual home wasn’t overflown. Alternating circuit direction helped a lot. Flying left hand for 2-3 hours and then right hand for a similar period eased things. We had multiple runways and also varied the one in use throughout the day should the w/v allowed.

  5. I saw this happen over and over again on Long Island in NY…
    One of the Cradles of Aviation in the US.
    Airports, flight training facilities, aviation repair shops and sky diving businesses steadily put out of business because enough elitist homeowners whined to their local municipalities, counties and states long enough.

  6. Touch and goes create the same noise as a takeoff, circle the pattern, landing. Only now you have to taxi, reposition, runup, and takeoff again. (Seems to me that is more fuel burn, larger greenhouse footprint, more wear and tear on tires, more potential for accidents on the ground, etc.) Is banning touch and goes really the way? If a student needs 20 takeoffs and landings to get proficient then the touch and go wins for simplicity and economy.

  7. Citing “negative and unreasonable health impacts” from noise and lead pollution”
    How will stopping touch and goes change any of these issues? They are still flying the same patterns, so this makes no sense. Sounds like a red herring to me.

  8. Suggest the airport launch an aggressive Young Eagle program and recruit kids from the complaining neighborhoods. Make sure they and their parents go through a mini pre-flight to better understand who is involved in light aircraft – not the Bizjet crowd. Fact is though American aircraft are LOUD! When I visit family in Germany, the only aircraft in the pattern at a nearby busy GA airfield are US spam cans that do not have mufflers. The Rotax-powered planes are barely heard, and that goes for aircraft just off the departure end of the runway, for instance the popular Diamond DA-40 and any aircraft with a Rotax. The plane not heard is the plane not seen.

    • I love aviation and with 37 years of flying and skydiving I have watched time and time again as population has moved next door to an airport and then closed it down. The population and their housing HAS expanded into the empty spaces airports once occupied. The general population DOES find airplane noise irritating. GA needs to accept that legacy aircraft with straight pipes and loud propellors WILL doom these airports. All the equipment and changes have already been implemented in Europe, we need to stop WISHING it were different and just suck it up and quiet our airplanes down or we WILL be closed down. Using Russ’s latest data, pilots are less than 0.2% of the population. GA will not win a head to head fight.

      • You’ve touched on a complex issue that is one of the bigger problems, as have a few others. A lot of this issue can be linked to the long-term stagnation of the GA industry. Someone mentioned that people will tolerate thousands of cars driving by not far from their houses but have an issue with GA aircraft. Imagine for a moment that half of those cars were still models from the 1960s and ’70s, causing considerably more localized pollution, and with straight pipes and otherwise far noisier engines and exhaust systems than today’s virtually silent and low-emission car engines. Probably many of us probably wouldn’t like that either. If the cost of new aircraft relative to income had tracked more like cars have over the years and not skyrocketed into the stratosphere, to be sure there would be more GA aircraft by now (as well as probably more GA airports), but they would be significantly quieter and less intrusive, and the ratio of aircraft with straight pipes and noisier propellers that emit lead pollution would be a much smaller fraction of the total.

        Obviously, the situation with the GA industry is complex and isn’t something you can blame on GA pilots or aircraft owners, or the industry itself, but it’s part of what’s lead up to this.

        And yes, things DO change over time and both sides need to accept the existence of change and try to work toward a solution. There’s no question that the airport predates most of the houses, but just as there are more houses now, airport traffic is greater than it was years ago, at least partly due to the growth in local population. As you allude to, remaining 100% self-righteous and indignant might lead to a poorer long-term outcome than working with the local communities toward some sort of reasonable compromise. GA is slowly growing again and GA aircraft are improving technologically, and things like MOSAIC will help, but it’s not growing as fast as residential communities are being built. Cooperation can go a long way on both sides. We lived near a railroad corridor when I was a kid in the ’60s and ’70s. In suburban areas, it’s just a fact of life that over time, suburbs grow toward areas like that. Over time, possibly prodded by a lawsuit (I don’t remember), the railroad became less self-righteous and indignant and negotiated with the residential communities that had gradually grown up and workable noise mitigation solutions were found. That railroad line did eventually close down, but it was 30 years later and not because of the noise issue, which had long since been largely resolved (I say largely because there will always be a small handful of people who can never accept any compromise). The tracks were removed and the corridor became a bus line, which also involved negotiation with the communities to make sure that impacts were reasonable.

      • Been saying that for years. Lower prop RPMs – big deal. It’s really instructive to listen to a Rotax-powered airplane go overhead in the pattern; it’s so much quieter it’s crazy. Two reasons for that: the engine is running at more than twice the RPM, so although there are more exhaust pulses, each one is much smaller; and the prop RPM is only about 2100 on takeoff, less on the downwind.

        • Yet the FAA has done remarkable things to lead to the point that a 50 year old design is still allowed to be sold and used for flight training. In fact, it would likely be one of the top choices even if it didn’t have the advantage of being the standard already.

  9. When we are flying electric aircraft, what will the complaint be? We are participants in the long, slow demise of GA. We may be the last generation able to experience the freedom of relatively unrestricted flight.

    • Electric VTOL needs very little airport space. That, in turn, should make it possible for a developer to build an airport just outside town. If the town moves in around the airport, relatively easy to move it farther out. Traditional airports were mostly built by the military and simply wouldn’t do enough business to justify the land area on a commercial basis. The biggest issue is likely to be hangar space, rather than runway.

  10. To be heard at KBJC in the future…

    Twr: “Cessna 123, Runway 30-Right, clear to land.”

    Acft: “Tower, Cessna 123 requesting the option.”

    Twr: Cessna 123, tower. Negative. The option is no longer available at this airport.”

    Acft” “Tower, Cessna 123. Going around. I saw what appeared to be a small rodent during the rollout, so I opted to go around for the protection of the wildlife and my passengers.

  11. Question: Are touch & goes really quieter to the surrounding neighborhood than a full stop and taxi back for take-off? I’m not sure they are. The aircraft is already up to speed when it touches. Seems as though it could climb out to pattern altitude more quickly.

    As for reducing led exposure: a full stop and taxi back for another takeoff DEFINITELY uses more fuel. How is banning a touch & go helping that aspect? The students need to learn to land (and also how to execute a safe go-around). It takes a certain number of actual landings to do so.

  12. Niles should have read the court filing. There is a lot going on here beside touch and goes.

    Not addressed in the article is that the plaintiff in this case is another town, Superior. A bedroomberg. The other plaintiff is the County of Boulder itself. The town of Superior is partially in both Boulder & Jefferson Counties. The airport is on the county line, inside Jefferson County.

    The defendant is Jefferson County, owner of the airport.

    By any measure, 700+ flights a day is a lot of traffic. And it increases substantially year on year. Regardless of the defense that “the airport was here first,” it is unreasonable to expect the plaintiffs t0 endure more and more traffic beyond what was common decades ago. Airplanes and jets have gotten larger and louder over time.

    At the heart of this is cultural clash between a county driven by business interests (boulder) & a county driven by outdoor activities and recreation enthusiasts (jefferson).

    At heart, the question is when do property owners get to control the airspace above their homes? (NV has already passed a law defining air property rights over a person’s home).

    Item 151 in the suit details how the (now former) airport manager failed to negotiate in good faith in the county’s participation in a regional Noise Reduction Roundtable. And that after several years of negotiation, little had been accomplished regarding the rights of property owners in Jefferson County.

    One of the key demands is no lead AVGAS to replace 100LL.

    Russ Niles should have been honest enough to explore the actual issues at hand. According to the filling, JeffCo has been singularly unresponsive to the concerns of the plaintiffs, contemptuous and dismissive, even.

    “Here’s your problem.” MythBusters.

    • Well, I don’t have the benefit of your firsthand knowledge of the subtleties of this dispute but I did include this line in the story “…the city and county say they’ve tried for years to get their next-door neighbors to respond to their concerns….” to convey the point you’re making. But whether neighbors get along is a side issue, regardless of how angry it makes them. The issues at hand are potentially precedent setting when it comes to jurisdiction and the FAA’s ability to govern what has so far been its sole responsibility.

    • Exactly how is this not blaming the victim for not playing nice with the thugs who want to steal from them?

      Also, are you by chance an attorney? I’d bet dollars to donuts the airport is following legal advice. We all know how this goes because it’s happened before, and it’s often a 20 year slog of continued attacks stealing $manager time$, requiring $lawyers$, and $community relations consultants$, $etc.$. $$$$$$$$$$$

  13. In essence, those suing want the four flight schools to reduce touch and goes ( I always liked the British bumps and circuits) for environmental reasons. What next, they’ll try to reduce or ban the use of diesel trucks? Also, what about the air from other states and the FAA money I’d be sure that Jeffco took?

  14. Justifying this for environmental reasons is the most Colorado thing ever. But as a practical matter, when I was instructing I had my folks do full stop/taxi back landings. There’s too much going on for the student to absorb any critique when on the go so it mainly falls on deaf ears. I felt it better to get a few less landings in but have the student’s complete attention when sitting on the taxiway discussing the previous landing.

  15. When did Touch and Go’s gain acceptance as an effective, productive, and safe training practice? There is a lot to be said for exiting the runway, taxiing back, collecting oneself and reviewing the landing before taking off for another go at landing. Touch and Go’s appear to emphsize Quantity over Quality. And 4 Flight Schools all championing Touch and Go’s, and the non-stop conga line that implies, makes it very difficult for other Airport users to enter the pattern for landing.

    Regardless, I have a bit of sympathy for homeowners that likely never anticipated effectively non-stop takeoffs from 4 flight schools doing touch and go’s, and continuing all day, every flying day, from a Class D airport. With 281,806 Operations in 2023, what is an “Operation”? If it’s a TakeOff, wow, that’s a lot. If you put a Reasonable-Hat on, a Class D Airport with a daily average of 772 operations a day, and that’s assuming 365 days of the year are flyable, sounds like a heck of lot of traffic in excess of normal and reasonable expectations for homeowners. Again assuming 365 days flyable, and assume 12 hour days, that’s non-stop for 12 hours with a flight every minute. If you assume 300 flyable days with the 4 schools going full blast, that’s 939 flights a day on-average, and if you assume it’s for 12 hours that’s 78 flights an hour. I suspect that at times during any day it’s a lot more frequency than that.

    I think this needs more than a Knee-Jerk reaction defending the Flight Schools while criticizing any complaints and a closer examination of volumes and activity, and effective Pilot Training that focuses on Quality vs Quantity and churning out a Graduate in the shortest time possible. As Pilots we do have a responsibility to be good Citizens and reasonable neighbors. A lot to look at more closely here…

  16. Jeffco opened in 1960–64 years ago. Enlarge the photo at the top of this article. How many of those homes were there 64 years ago–or even half that time?

    The problem could be mitigated by using the parallel runway 30L (again, enlarge the photo)–that would drastically cut down the number of homes affected. (I certainly hope there are zoning laws controlling the use of the land on the departure end of 30L to avoid the complaints off 30R)

    Using 30L for touch and goes should do a lot to mitigate any noise issues, while preserving the longer runway for larger and louder aircraft.

  17. Same old story, same old arguments. There’s no magic solution, so the best we can hope for is that the lawsuit doesn’t breach the FAA’s fortress of control over airport operations.

    One of the obvious problems with Jeffco is its altitude and the associated performance hit, which works to spread the misery over more real estate.

  18. The less airports we have, the more noise the rest will have.

    The Feds need to simply put their feet down on this once and for all. They all stay unless a more suitable site can be found IN THE SAME COMMUNITY.

    An airport 20 minutes away is an airport much less usable.

    • Unfortunately the FAA has not shown any willingness to “put their foot down” on any issue threatening use of airports anywhere else.

  19. KDEN shoukd charge $100 a seat surcharge… That’s all $heeple understand.

    CO allowed in too much CA.

  20. Look at the photos at the top of the article. THERE ARE NO HOMES ON THE DEPARTURE END OF 30L–but there ARE on 30R.

    Restrict the training traffic to 30L. The neighbors will still have the thrill of turbine departures off 30R–but their overall sound exposure will be less.

  21. I own a plane and keep it at one of the GA airports around Denver. Since covid, a new problem has arisen. It’s called “Crammed Full Flight Schools”. When I do manage to get a space in the pattern traffic, I find the traffic pattern to be so stretched out with student T&G’s, that I’m afraid I’ll have to refuel before I get to my base leg. Neighborhoods many miles from GA airports, that for all the years I’ve been in Colorado never had to deal with the bombardment of single-engine plane noise are now getting it in spades. These are not neighborhoods that are near the airport, so residents shouldn’t be criticized for buying near an operational airport. Flight schools are “making hay while the sun shines” and they are cramming as many students into the traffic pattern as the towers will allow. The solution is to take this problem up with the flight school operators and work it out there.

LEAVE A REPLY