Pilots Fight Public Identification of Noisy Planes

JUNE 14, 2005

Members of a pilot group said Monday they fear harassment if Livermore Airport officials are legally required to disclose identification numbers of aircraft that are the subjects of noise complaints. Such information, pilots said, effectively provides the name and address of plane owners because they are a matter of public record through Federal Aviation Administration files.

"Such disclosure has only one purpose -- to enable direct harassment of pilots and aircraft operators by the complainant when no violation of either law or airport guidelines has been substantiated," reads a letter submitted to the city's Airport Advisory Commission. The letter was submitted Monday at a special meeting to discuss airport noise concerns.

"If a noise complaint is filed, any followup action should be taken by city employees -- not by vigilante citizens," said the letter from a pilots' group called Coalition for Livermore Airport. The letter added that the pilot of an aircraft is often not its registered owner.

Airport neighbor Wendy Weathers said the purpose of making public the identification numbers of aircraft involved in noise complaints is not to find out specifically who the owners are or where they live. Rather, she said, it's to ensure the airport is following up on multiple complaints about the same aircraft.

"It's a record that allows someone to see if there's a repetitive problem," Weathers said, adding she would not object if the federal government kept the addresses of aircraft owners private, similar to what the state Department of Motor Vehicles does with car registration information. But speaking of harassment, "We're harassed by (aircraft) noise, day and night," Weathers said.

Members of the advisory commission, comprised largely of pilots, sympathized with the concerns raised by pilots. It voted to recommend, subject to review by the Livermore city attorney's office, that identification numbers of aircraft be released only upon written request and only when there is "conclusive evidence" that connects it to a specific noise complaint.

Airport officials say establishing such a connection is usually extremely difficult, especially at night when identification numbers are difficult to see. That means that identification numbers usually are not attached to noise complaint reports.

Advisory Commission Chairman Ralph Cloud said the indiscriminate release of aircraft identification numbers subject to complaints can lead to problems. For example, he said an altercation between pilots themselves ensued when information about airplanes violating a voluntary nighttime curfew at a Florida airport were posted on a bulletin board. "I want to avoid that kind of incident here in Livermore," Cloud said.

Commissioner Ralph Huy complained that while information on the owners of aircraft can be easily ascertained, airports must legally protect the identity of the people filing noise complaints.

Source: Contra Costa Times