By Jack Mayne
Huge increases in complaints about noise of newly permitted commercial aviation were said to be the work of an imposter account, a Paine Field spokesperson told the Everett Herald in a story published Tuesday (Oct. 29).
The phony noise complaints were filed impersonating Paine Field Airport Director Arif Ghouse, the Herald story said.
223 fake reports
The imposter paper said the account for airport Director Arif Ghouse was responsible for 223 noise complaints in September alone, according to Paine field spokesperson Scott North.
The Herald story said that during a 15-hour span on Thursday (Oct 24) — the day the Snohomish County Airport Commission met — the fake account fired off 235 noise complaints. The hoax came to light in September when Ghouse began receiving emails confirming that noise complaints had been successfully filed through a third-party online. Noise complaints can be submitted directly to Paine Field’s online portal or a designated telephone line. A recent advent of third-party airport noise complaints has given residents another avenue to comment — with one-click efficiency.
Since March, noise complaints during some months have risen a staggering 5,000 percent year over year. During August, the airport received 2,743 complaints, compared with 53 in August 2018.
Four households were supposedly responsible for nearly 1,100 complaint filings, the Herald reported.
The number of takeoffs and landings has risen in recent months compared to a four-year average.
The newspaper’s story said there were 15,793 flight operations at Paine Field in August, a 20 percent increase over August’s four-year average.
That total includes 1,488 departures or arrivals of flights operated by Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which now serve a new two-gate passenger terminal. But many noise complaints involve other aircraft, including Boeing jets being tested or delivered and the company’s massive 747 Dreamlifters, which ferry components.
The Herald story said fake accounts have raised questions about the reliability of the complaint database, which is used to steer voluntary noise reduction efforts at the county-owned airport.
“I can’t say that 100 percent of all the data is correct,” Ghouse told the Snohomish County Airport Commission at a quarterly meeting on Oct. 24. The board, comprised of volunteers, advises the county executive.
“I personally have filed hundreds of complaints — from a fake account,” an annoyed Ghouse told the commission.
An online service called Airnoise.io offers paid subscribers the ability to fire off unlimited airport noise complaints with a single click of a device or through a web application.
The Everett Herald said that the San Diego-based company requires users to be at least 13-years old and provide current and accurate information when they set up an account.
Airnoise’s developer, Chris McCann, told the Herald on Monday that “if someone created an account under a false name or otherwise provided false information in their account or their complaints, they would clearly be in violation of our terms of service and subject to a wide variety of actions by us.” McCann, a former Air Force pilot, founded Airnoise.io two and a half years ago. Many area residents use it to file noise complaints about Sea-Tac Airport.
Monthly complaint increase
Legitimate accounts with third-party services are also driving up Paine Field’s monthly noise-complaint tally.
In June, about a dozen households filed more than 1,300 complaints through a third-party app, accounting for the majority of complaints received that month, North said.
In September, six of 10 noise complaints filed with the airport originated with a third-party service, North said.
The ease of multiple filings — hundreds a day — appears to be behind a surge of noise complaints here and elsewhere.
The Snohomish County airport is one of many around the country, including Sea-Tac Airport, that report being inundated with complaints generated by third-party services.
The Washington Post reported last year that “officials at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport … are almost certain Airnoise is the reason complaints surged to 17,228 in August from 2,692 the previous month. In San Diego, more than 90 percent of the complaints came through third-party apps like Airnoise.”
Paine Field might be among the first to be targeted by phony accounts.
The airport uses the information it gathers from complaints to pinpoint the source of airport noise and guide noise abatement.
“We depend on good data to make good decisions,” North said.
The complaint log has been used in the past, for example, to encourage Boeing to make changes to 747 Dreamlifter approaches to the airfield, North said.
The airport, which does not have a noise curfew, operates 24 hours a day under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, the airport encourages tenants — including Boeing, Aviation Technical Services, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, and the general aviation community — to be mindful of surrounding communities.
“We want to be good neighbors,” North said.