Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
Q: What is the city doing to decrease noise over residential areas?
A: The city has developed the airport’s noise abatement program to help minimize noise impacts to the greatest extent possible over residential areas in the vicinity of the airport. Unfortunately, the proximity of residential areas surrounding the airport makes some level of exposure to aircraft noise inevitable; however, the city strives to minimize aircraft noise exposure as much as possible, while still serving the needs of airport users.
Q: Why don't aircraft always fly over the open areas around the airport instead of over residential neighborhoods?
A: Specific flight paths are determined based on several factors, including the runway orientation, weather conditions, the direction of the prevailing wind and the rising terrain to the west of the airport. Because safety is the #1 priority, it is necessary for aircraft to fly over residential areas in order to maintain a safe distance between any airborne aircraft and away from the rising terrain to the west.
Q: Who can do something about low-flying planes? My concern really isn't noise; it's safety. Who should I contact?
A: Specific safety comments should be filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Flight Standards District Office located in Scottsdale at (480) 284-4450 or email. This office investigates low-flying or potentially unsafe flight incidents.
Q: What are the rules regarding how low an aircraft can fly over a residential area? Is there a legal minimum altitude that airplanes can fly over residential areas?
A: Aircraft altitude is established by Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Section 91.119. It is important to be aware of two aspects of this regulation which address minimum safe altitudes. First, most aircraft operating in the vicinity of the airport are in the process of landing or taking off. In these cases, this regulation does not apply. Second, helicopters are exempted from this federal regulation. Helicopters are not subject to the minimum altitude restrictions required of fixed wing aircraft provided that the operation of the helicopter is conducted safely.
The minimum traffic pattern altitudes for Cottonwood Airport are:
- Helicopters – 5,545 Mean Sea Level (MSL)/500 Above Ground Level (AGL)
- Single/Multi Engine Aircraft - 6,045 Mean Sea Level MSL/1,000 AGL).
- Large Aircraft, all turbo prop/jet and high-performance aircraft – 6,545 MSL/1500 AGL.
Q: What has the city already done to mitigate the effects of noise on area residents?
A: The city’s implementation role is focused on communication. By continually communicating our recommended noise abatement practices with the appropriate parties, the city is better able to influence cultural changes that will impact the way pilots fly to & from the Airport. Our outreach efforts include contact at various levels of the FAA, with Cottonwood-based pilots and itinerant pilots (pilots not based here), flight training schools, and aviation businesses as well as citizens to help educate and make aware of our noise abatement program policies and goals. This is a continuous, on-going effort.
Q: Why doesn't the City of Cottonwood have curfews or rules similar to those at other airports such as Scottsdale, AZ or Burbank, CA?
A: In 1990, Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act that made it extremely difficult for airports to initiate curfews or to impose any kind of noise or airport access restrictions though airports such as Scottsdale that had curfews in place when the Act was passed were allowed to keep them. No restrictions existed at Cottonwood prior to 1990.
Q: How can I submit an Aircraft Incident Comment?
A: The city provides residents with the opportunity to file noise and safety complaints at email@example.com. Additionally, residents may to file by phone by calling 928-340-2722. Airport staff will review all comments received and perform the necessary follow-up based upon the findings of the review.
Q: What happens when I submit an Aircraft Incident Comment?
A: All comments are entered into a database and correlated with a particular aircraft event. The city uses a flight tracking system to provide accurate flight data to identify aircraft and specifics related to a reported incident (aircraft identification number, runway in use, aircraft operation (take-off, landing, overflight, altitude, speed). This system provides staff with the technology needed to better understand and identify the circumstances associated with a particular event. The more accurate the information submitted to the airport regarding an event, the better chance the airport has to investigate, follow-up, and address the complaint.
Reports submitted to the city assist in monitoring the effectiveness of the Noise Abatement Program and, if necessary, consider additional solutions to noise concerns. The comments also assist the city in educating pilots and aviation businesses about the importance of ‘Flying Friendly.’ Please note that all information submitted becomes part of the City’s public records. Arizona Public Records Law, A.R.S. §39-121, et. seq. requires the City to disclose such information upon a request for public records.
Noise complaints will not eliminate aircraft noise, but your calls help staff manage our education efforts to assist in minimizing airport noise impacts to the greatest extent possible. While some complaints help identify pilots that might have used better noise abatement practices, many complaints are received for operations that produce noise events, but which are fully in compliance with FAA air traffic rules and the Airport’s voluntary noise abatement practices.
Q: What good does it do to call-in or complete an online noise complaint when the noise abatement program is voluntary?
A: Pilot (and public) education is a primary component of the airport’s noise abatement program, and the complaints assist the city in this effort. Complaints allow airport staff to determine if there are specific instances or trends that can be addressed which assist staff in enhancing the education program.
Q: How busy is the airport? How is the level of activity at the airport measured?
A: Activity levels at airports are measured by the FAA based upon the number of aircraft operations in and above the airport area. An operation is defined as one takeoff, one landing, or aircraft flying through Cottonwood’s airspace, as defined by the FAA. In 2023, Cottonwood experienced approximately 50,000 aircraft and helicopter operations. By comparison, in 2021 Prescott Regional Airport experienced 311,342 operations making it the 3rd busiest airport in Arizona and the 24th busiest airport in the nation.
Q: What are the airport's hours of operation?
A: Federal law requires Cottonwood to remain open to the public 24 hours per day, 7 days per week on a non-discriminatory basis. The airport may close for repair or maintenance. Pilots are responsible for communicating directly with each other on a common published radio frequency while flying and taxiing their aircraft.
Q: What can the city do to keep airplanes from flying over my neighborhood?
A: Once a pilot communicates with local traffic and leaves the runway pavement, the aircraft is under the sole authority of the pilot. The city has no regulatory authority over aircraft in flight; that is restricted solely to the federal government; however, through feedback received, the city can monitor noise-sensitive areas and work with pilots to minimize noise to the greatest extent possible provided flight safety is not jeopardized.
Although it is impossible to completely shield residents from aircraft noise, the city has attempted to address this by developing voluntary noise mitigation recommendations aimed at reducing the effects of noise on the community. These and other recommendations are designed to reduce the effect on noise on area residents. Additional potential noise abatement measures are constantly being evaluated for use at Cottonwood.
Q: What is the city’s development plans for Cottonwood? How big will the airport grow?
A: The city last completed an update to the Airport Master Plan in 2022. The Airport Master Plan is the guiding document used by the city to plan for future growth of the airport in conjunction with other City plans for the areas surrounding the airport. Previous Airport Master Plans were completed in 1986, 1993, and 2006.
Q: Can the city fine "problem" pilots? Can the city prevent them from using the airport?
A: Because the airport’s noise abatement program is voluntary, the city does not have the regulatory authority to issue fines or prohibit a pilot from flying into and out of the airport. Safety is the #1 priority. Therefore, pilots are sometimes unable to comply with the recommended noise abatement practices for safety of flight reasons such as aircraft weight, ensuring adequate separation between other aircraft, the number of aircraft operating in the flight pattern, differences in aircraft speed, or muggy and hot weather conditions which make takeoff rolls longer and less efficient.
Q: Why can’t the city limit the kinds of aircraft that fly into and out of Cottonwood? Why can’t it limit the times when aircraft can land and take off from the airport?
A: Federal law requires Cottonwood as a public use airport to remain open to the public 24 hours per day, 7 days per week on a non-discriminatory basis. While the Airport publishes information about the length, width, and strength of its runway, it is ultimately the pilot’s decision whether or not their aircraft can safely land and take off from Cottonwood.
Q: Why does the airport need the federal and state grant funds?
A: Most capital improvements at the airport are costly. The city is not in a position to fund all of these facility improvements itself and, therefore, requests financial assistance from the FAA and the State to design and construct improvements that are often safety related. This is typical for most public use airports.
Q: I’m a citizen of Cottonwood. Why don’t you care about me?
A: The city cares about you and your well-being and safety. That is why the city is doing everything within its legal authority to make sure aircraft have the opportunity to take-off and land safely from the airport while addressing noise concerns to the extent possible.
Unfortunately, not every aircraft incident report filed with this city contains enough information to allow the airport to follow-up on a noise or safety claim. Some complaints that are filed are very general in nature, but that does not make them any less important. The city collects the information and enters it into a database that is used to track noise issues.
In addition to regulating the airport, the FAA also regulates pilots and aircraft. Pilots must complete a certain amount of training before the FAA will issue a pilot’s license. The FAA also regulates aircraft manufacturers, aircraft maintenance and repair facilities, and flight training schools and academies. Failure to comply with FAA rules and regulations has substantial consequences from the FAA including up to the loss of their pilot or operating licenses and/or substantial fines.
The Airport is an important element of the City’s daily commerce and connects residents and businesses to state, regional, national and international markets. A 2021 Arizona Aviation Economic Impact Study conducted by the Arizona Department of Transportation estimated Cottonwood Airport’s tenants and users (including airpark and business park tenants), and visitors contribute an estimated $6.8 million to the community’s economy every year. The airport plays a role in attracting and sustaining economic growth and development in the area.
Q: How does the weather and season affect aircraft noise?
A: Individuals will usually notice an increase in aircraft noise during cooler months (spring & fall) when windows are more likely to be open and people are outside. During the hotter summer months, an aircraft’s ability to gain altitude quickly decreases due to the heat. They stay lower for longer, and more power is required for the aircraft to gain altitude.
Also, in the summer months, pilots typically fly earlier in the morning because sunrise occurs early, and the air is calmer and cooler. As the temperature rises, air becomes more turbulent and winds pick up, aircraft activity typically decreases. The summer monsoons also impact when aircraft operate at Cottonwood.
Low cloud cover will create more noise because the sound resonates back to the ground instead of dispersing throughout the atmosphere. As air density becomes thicker and the air is cooler and dryer, the air molecules are closer together, resulting in the sound conducting more efficiently, traveling longer distances and appearing louder to the ear.
Q: When does an aircraft make the most noise?
A: Most noise complaints originate from aircraft operations during the initial phase of their take-off or during the final phase of landing. Because individuals have a wide range of sensitivity to noise, the extent of noise impact varies greatly among individuals. The noise level perceived at any given point on the ground can vary widely based on a number of factors. These include but are not limited to:
- Aircraft type and size. A common misconception is that the larger the aircraft the louder they become, however this is not necessarily the case. Cottonwood receives most noise complaints from light, single engine aircraft. While there has been a growing number of corporate jets using the field on our field many of these aircraft have been built recently in the past several decades with state-of-the-art engines designed to greatly limit their noise output.
- Aircraft load. Passenger and aviation fuel loads can affect noise levels. Heavier loaded aircraft generally climb at a slower rate and require the use of more engine power, increasing the noise exposure to residences near the airport.
- Weather. Weather can also affect noise levels. Dense low cloud cover may reflect noise back to the ground, producing an "echo" effect which may intensify noise levels (similar to driving through a tunnel).
- Time of Day. Aircraft operations during nighttime or early morning hours typically have a greater noise impact due to the time of day. People are often more sensitive to noise during normal “sleeping” hours. The same noise level and operation may actually seem worse during these hours due to this increased sensitivity. Aircraft noise may also appear to be louder because of the absence of other ambient sounds heard throughout the day from automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, lawn mowers, televisions, and loud music, etc.
- Season. Aircraft noise is often a greater nuisance during seasons when residents leave their doors and windows open. During the summer and winter months, homes usually have the doors and windows closed, limiting the exposure to outside noise sources. During the spring and fall, when temperatures are more moderate, residents often have the doors and windows of their home open or are outside. During these times, people are typically more sensitive to aircraft noise.
- Human Factors. Noise affects different people in different ways. Some are more sensitive to noise in general. Different people may be more or less sensitive to certain types or sources of noise. Individuals living in the same neighborhood or even within the same home may also have different levels of sensitivity to noise.
Q: Who is responsible for aircraft noise?
A: The Cottonwood Airport is part of the National Air Transportation System and plays a vital role in the local, regional, and national aviation system. However, many different organizations share responsibility for various elements of a noise abatement program, and airport operators are just one of many responsible parties. The various participants in the aircraft noise abatement issues and their roles include:
The Federal Government
The National Air Transportation System exists primarily through the creation of federal legislation. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 established the management of navigable airspace as a federal responsibility. Every facet of it is governed by the FAA. They exercise control of aircraft noise through:
- Establishing aircraft noise emissions standards. Aircraft are certified by the FAA for various levels of noise emissions. All newly manufactured jet aircraft are certified to quiet "Stage 3" standards; however, some noisier "Stage 2" business jet aircraft are still permitted to operate without mandatory noise-reducing "hush kits", however, these aircraft are quickly diminishing from use. There is an ongoing international dialogue about developing a new quieter "Stage 4" standard. Military aircraft are also exempt from these federal regulations.
- Noise Compatibility Studies. The FAA oversees, reviews, and either approves or disapproves FAR Part 150 airport noise compatibility studies that are conducted by airports. It also approves or disapproves airports’ decisions to implement aircraft noise regulations.
- Licensing of Pilots & Enforcement of Flight Regulations. Pilots are trained in procedures that are intended to be uniform at airports across the country. Noise abatement awareness is part of the required pilot training curriculum. The FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO,) located in Scottsdale, regulates this activity and enforces pilot compliance with air traffic control instructions and flight regulations.
State of Arizona. State regulation of aircraft in flight is preempted by federal law. However, State regulations affect disclosure of aircraft flight paths and noise. Arizona Revised Statute 28-8486 Public Airport Disclosure requires the recording of public airport disclosure maps. The maps provide information to prospective homebuyers, as well as current homeowners, regarding flight patterns at or near an airport.
Local Government (City of Cottonwood, Town of Clarkdale, Yavapai County). Local governments have authority that governs land use planning, zoning and other local building codes. Prior to 1990, some local governments passed regulations on local aircraft operations at airports. However, Congress severely limited local governments from enacting any new mandatory regulations by passing the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA). This has resulted in only a small number of airports having local "grandfathered" mandatory noise regulations that were in place prior to 1990.
Airport Operators. Airport operators (in this case the City of Cottonwood) are responsible for the planning, development, and maintenance of the airport and zoning in land surrounding the airport in the City of Cottonwood.
Pilots. Pilots are responsible for operating their aircraft safely, while complying with all FAA rules governing flight and air traffic control instructions. National, state, and local pilot associations actively encourage their members to "fly friendly" and use noise abatement procedures whenever possible, consistent with safety.
Residents. The Federal Aviation Noise Abatement Policy 2000 states that "current and prospective residents in areas surrounding airports should seek to understand the aircraft noise problem and what steps can and cannot be taken to minimize its effects. Prospective home buyers should research the location of airports and flight paths and determine if aircraft noise would affect their quality of life."
Q: Where can I find a copy of the Airport Public Disclosure Map?
A: The City has recorded a map of the Cottonwood Airport Public Disclosure Map showing the general Traffic Pattern Airspace with the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office. Recorded noise disclosure maps for Cottonwood Airport and other Arizona airports may be viewed at the Public Airport Maps section of the Arizona Department of Real Estate's website. Airport noise contours indicate what areas around the airport experience aircraft noise as measured by the FAA standards. The federal guidelines for residential compliance with aircraft noise are an average of 65 decibels or lower during a 24-hour period.
Q: Has the airport changed its flight patterns? Is that why I notice increases or decreases in the number of airplanes over my house?
A: There have been no changes or attempted changes to the general flight patterns into or out of the airport. As was discussed above, the flight patterns may change due to bad weather and/or wind conditions, and these patterns are generally used only temporarily until the wind or weather condition subsides.
The following diagram represents the typical flight patterns for the airport’s runway: