Noisy F-35 could affect thousands, study finds

AF document predicts impact if fighters are based at TIA or D-M
2012-06-13T00:00:00Z 2012-06-13T15:15:28Z Noisy F-35 could affect thousands, study findsCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Thousands of Tucsonans stand to be affected by higher noise levels and lower property values if a new Air Force jet eventually is based here, an environmental impact study shows.

The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter would be nearly twice as loud as the F-16 jets currently flown out of Tucson International Airport by the Air National Guard, the study found.

Tucson isn't the service's preferred training site for the new jet at this point - it's expected to go first to Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix - but local military boosters are pushing for an eventual presence here, either at TIA or at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The high-tech, supersonic F-35 - the "A" denotes the Air Force version - is due to come into widespread use over the next decade or so. It's the scheduled replacement for both the F-16s flown at TIA and the A-10 attack jets based at D-M.

The Air Force recently wrapped up an environmental study that compared Luke with three other potential training sites for the F-35, including the Air Guard base in Tucson, Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and an Air Guard base in Boise, Idaho.

An F-35 presence at TIA would substantially increase the number of Tucsonans affected by intrusive jet noise, defined as greater than 65 decibels averaged over a 24-hour period.

The Air Force looked at three Tucson scenarios, with 24, 48 or 72 new jets based here. The more aircraft, the greater the impact on the community, the 1,000-page report stated.

About 400 people near TIA now are affected by high noise levels from current Air Guard operations. That number would soar to about 1,900 with 24 new jets, to nearly 4,400 with 48 jets, and to more than 8,500 with 72 new jets.

Those opposed to basing F-35s in Tucson say the report backs up their contention the city isn't a viable location for the high-noise warplane.

"The F-35 is not suitable to be operated in an urban environment where it would fly over densely populated areas," said attorney Alan Stein, a Tucson native who lives in the Colonia Solana neighborhood. He attended public meetings the Air Force held during the environmental review and helped draft his neighborhood's statement of opposition.

Dozens of Tucsonans attended the public meetings, and noise was their top concern, the report noted.

Still, thousands of area residents support basing the aircraft here.

More than 5,000 have joined an online petition set up by supporters of the Air Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing, which runs the current F-16 operation at the Tucson airport.

An F-35 presence could bring up to 350 more jobs to Tucson, depending on the number of new aircraft.

Maj. Gabe Johnson, spokesman for the 162nd, said if the new jet lands here, the military will work to reduce negative impacts on residents.

"We're very optimistic about our situation," Johnson said.

Tucson's sunny skies and proximity to training ranges make it perfect for pilot training, he said. And with the Air Force planning to buy more than 1,700 F-35s, more than one training base likely will be needed, he added.

The noise impact would be greatest in neighborhoods north and northwest of the current Air Guard operation, which is near East Valencia Road and South Campbell Avenue.

At Challenger Middle School, on East Elvira Road near South Sixth Avenue, the new jets could force students to stay indoors.

Outdoor noise levels at the school would "not (be) optimal for regular outdoor activities for children and learning activities," the report said.

Several outdoor recreation sites would be affected, including Fiesta Park, Mission Manor Park, Pima County Rodeo Grounds, El Pueblo Park and recreation center, Desert Vista Park and Bravo Park.

"Average noise levels would increase at all recreational locations surrounding the airfield to some degree," the report said.

During typical operations, the F-35A is about nine decibels louder than the F-16s now flown from TIA, it said. That represents a near-doubling of perceived noise on the logarithmic decibel scale.

Some home values could dip as a result.

Studies show each extra decibel of noise can reduce a home's worth by about half a percent, the report said. A nine-decibel increase works out to about a 4.5 percent decline in value.

The Air Force could announce a final decision on the F-35 training center sometime this summer.

Read the report

Go to www.f-35atrainingeis.com/ EisDocument.html to read the final environmental impact statement for the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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