Air Traffic Impact on Real Estate

By Michael Repka, Pilot

As a licensed pilot and Silicon Valley’s most active real estate listing agent, I have a unique perspective on how air traffic impacts local real estate. From this vantage point, I can see and understand the concerns of both sides of the debate as to how we can keep aircraft noise to a minimum.

There is no doubt that we have a lot of air traffic passing overhead. The Bay Area is serviced by three large international airports – San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. All three of these airports have flights coming and going from around the nation and around the world. While this is very convenient when we’re looking to book a flight somewhere, the frequency of overhead airliners can be an annoyance at best and a significant impact on housing values at worst.

Naturally, there has to be a balance between the needs of air travelers and the local residents’ quiet enjoyment of their very expensive properties. Irrespective of the comments in some blogs and other writings, I have found that both pilots and the Federal Aviation Administration (the “FAA”) take noise abatement very seriously.


In 2003, the FAA began to implement the Next Generation Air Transportation System (“NextGen”), which was designed with the laudable goal of enhancing the speed and efficiency of airliners arriving at large airports. Currently, the FAA is about halfway through its phase-in of the new system, with completion anticipated between 2025 and 2030. Although a bit simplistic, the concept is similar to airliners passing through a funnel and following a prescribed route to the airport. Generally, this approach has been very effective in improving on-time arrivals at busy airports, saving fuel due to improved routing, and reducing minimum required separation between airplanes. However, it has had the unfortunate side effect of routing multiple aircrafts, one after another, over the same neighborhoods and houses.

General Aviation

When I started taking flying lessons a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by how considerate private pilots are when it comes to noise issues and safety. While the FAA promulgates regulations that control pilots’ conduct, it has been my experience that pilots of small planes are trained to, and do impose further restrictions on themselves. For example, pilots who are learning to fly often have to do certain maneuvers to learn how to control the plane. These include circling at certain bank angles, “ground reference maneuvers” around a field, road or point, and stalls. These maneuvers tend to be loud and repetitive, so pilots generally go over to the ocean or the open space in the vicinity of Tracy, CA to minimize impact to people on the ground.

Similarly, pilots coming in to land in local airports are trained to keep power to a minimum during the descent over homes to reduce unnecessary noise.

However, just like the NextGen system, there are certain navigational aids in general aviation that result in an enhanced likelihood of unwanted noise. For example, there are particular “reporting points” (e.g., visible landmarks) or VHF Omni-Directional Range (“VOR”) transmitters that are used by many pilots flying in to or out of the area. Knowledgeable local real estate agents can identify these points for buyers’ consideration.

If a buyer is concerned about air traffic noise, whether from commercial airliners or small planes, it is important that they discuss this with their Realtor®. Both the Realtor® and buyer should visit the property at different times of the day and during different weather patterns. Generally, planes land and take off into the wind and most airports have a prevailing runway and direction. This means that air traffic will often land and take off in the same direction and over the same homes.

There is a significant difference in the amount of noise generated by a departing aircraft when compared to an arriving aircraft. On the departure end of the runway, planes will be louder because they are heavier and climbing under full power.  On the arrival end of the runway, planes will generally be lighter and under very little power because they are descending to the touchdown point.

Despite the best intentions of most pilots, there are the occasional outliers that fly in an obnoxious way. The FAA does take this seriously, so please report any concerns to 866-835-5322.