What may be a delight to spectators at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show – a.k.a. seeing military aircraft flying overhead – is not as welcome during the remainder of the year.
Some Chesterfield residents, who have noticed an increase in the number of military jets using Spirit of St. Louis Airport as a refueling station, are voicing concerns, particularly in regard to sound.
James Viviano Sr. says the jets are so loud and fly so low that they rattle his home’s windows and scare his dogs.
“It’s dangerously low the way they fly,” he said.
Viviano has lived at his home off Wildhorse Creek Road for 10 years and says it is just the last two to three years that he has seen military aircraft landing at the airport.
A question on a local Nextdoor app about “very loud planes” at Spirit Airport, resulted in replies from airport “neighbors” who share Viviano’s concern to those who welcome the jets as “the sound of freedom.”
One reply asked: “To whom can we complain when this [plane taking off before 6 a.m.] happens, it disturbs residents sleeping.” But another person posted: “I love hearing them.” Her comment was followed by one that read: “Actually, I kinda like having the jets around.” Another declared, “Love our military.” That sentiment was shared by an area resident who drew a connection between the jets at Spirit and “what our country has to do to keep us safe … these are our heroes.”
John Bales, director of aviation at Spirit Airport, says there has always been military aircraft use at the airport, but it has increased in number as pilots discover the quick service they receive in terms of refueling. In the past, the airport might see one to two jets stopping for fuel, now it’s whole wings, mostly Navy, he said.
“They’re coming off the coast, after having been three to four months at sea, heading back to their base,” Bales explained. “In some cases, they might be flying from the east coast going to the west coast for training, and it’s a midway point for refueling.”
Still, the military aircraft represent less than 2% of the annual traffic count, Bales said.
TAC Air [Truman Arnold Companies] provides the aircraft fueling at the airport. According to Tad Perryman, TAC’s vice president of marketing, TAC Air-SUS [the company’s Chesterfield location] received a fuel contract with the federal government 16 years ago but the company, known as a fixed base operator [FBO], has provided fueling and other services to military aircraft for 30 years, servicing all branches of military aircraft, including Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, Army and Air Force.
In addition to aircraft fueling, TAC Air provides military services that include ground handling, hangar space, aircraft maintenance, cargo handling and de-icing.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport also has a federal contract to sell fuel to the military. So, when a large group of jets comes through in one day, half might go to Spirit Airport and half to Lambert, Bales said.
“We don’t have the capability of filling that many quickly,” Bales noted.
Bales said he is aware of the residents’ noise concerns and says the airport is working with the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] control tower to try to alleviate the situation.
When pilots are attempting a landing, they perform an overhead break maneuver to slow their speed. When the aircraft circle around to the north end of the airport that maneuver and the resulting sound is not usually a problem. It’s when they have to circle south over neighborhoods that it becomes an issue, Bales said.
Airport officials make an effort to contact the control tower prior to the arrival of the aircraft to see if it’s possible to direct them to the north.
“We request that the FAA control tower, if there is no traffic on the north, to do a north overhead break,” Bales said. “We rarely see complaints on those … Whenever we are notified that a military airplane is coming in, we call the tower and remind them to ask to do an overhead break to the north to keep away from residents.”
It’s not always possible if there are smaller aircraft in the area or they are doing training exercises, he said.
A major noise study was completed in 2003, which recommended a number of measures to help manage airport noise. As part of the study field, noise measurements were taken and FAA flight-tracking data was obtained. A series of open houses were held for residents, public officials, airport users and others with an interest in airport activities to get public input.
One of those recommendations made was to implement north turn procedures. Another was to develop traffic pattern altitudes for different aircraft, having pilots use a higher altitude when flying over houses. Bales explained that the airport can run radar track to ensure that the pilots are flying high enough. However, he said, “The best weapon we can have is to work with the control tower.”
The study also recommended constructing a Ground Run-Up Enclosure [GRE] with deafening walls and acoustic panels to dampen the noise. The state-of-the-art facility at Spirit is able to accommodate aircraft while maintenance mechanics conduct high-power engine run-up inspections prior to take-off.
As a result of the study, noise exposure maps were developed to depict the actual and future noise impacts in the areas affected by aircraft operation.
While the city of Chesterfield has no jurisdiction over the airport, the city does provide disclosure statements to prospective buyers and tenants of residential property that there may be the possibility of noise from the airport.
Additionally, although there is no specific time when military aircraft are not allowed to land, there is limited traffic at night, Bales said.
“We want to have a good partnership with the city,” Bales said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
Bales reported that there are 3,000 people working at the airport, which represents a $400 million economic impact to the community.
The hotline number for residents to call to report unusually loud or close airport traffic is (314) 452-8167.