By Jack Mayne

On Oct. 31, we published a story about aviation noise at Everett’s Paine Field which reported huge increases in complaints about noise of new commercial aviation, a story rewritten from a story in the Everett Herald daily newspaper’s online edition.

The Herald story which the Blog referenced said that during a 15-hour span in October a fake Internet account registered in one day 235 noise complaints that 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,” the Herald story said, a fact that was disputed by the small company doing the compilation of the noise complaints.

‘Airnoise’ software
Chris McCann of La Jolla, Calif., invented AirNoise. He is a San Diego resident who told a television reporter that the air noise problem is getting worse.

“It actually causes the windows of our house to rumble if it’s really low, which we never had before,” he says.

His measuring system, Airnoise (https://airnoise.io), is a web-based service that allows people to quickly and easily file airport noise complaints and is used along with over 50 different airports nationally, including Sea-Tac.

“Historically airport noise complaints have been difficult to file, both because the average person doesn’t know much about airplanes and because the processes provided by airports to file noise complaints are onerous and cumbersome,” McCann added.

He said he first got an email from HeraldNet.com, the newspaper’s website. The reporter “indicated she was writing an article, to be released very shortly, about an ongoing problem with fraudulent noise complaints being filed at Paine Field in the name of both Arif Ghouse, the airport director, and Dave Somers, a country airport commission executive.”

The reporter said she was writing a story “about the discovery of two paid Airnoise accounts that were falsely set up under the names of the Paine Field Airport director, Arif Ghouse, and Snohomish County executive, Dave Somers. She told McCann that during a two-month period, they had received “several hundred confirmations  of complaints filed in their names.” The reporter said that “would seem to indicate that these are paid accounts with unlimited filings.

Policy on falsity
Then the reporter asked for Airnoise’s policy in regard to using false information to set up a free or paid account and what safeguards they had in place to prevent against the creation of fake accounts.
Do you plan safeguards in future?

McCann told The B-Town Blog it was the “first I heard about this potential issue. I was shocked, to say the least.”

“I immediately dug into Airnoise to see if accounts did in fact exist for Arif or Dave. There weren’t any…I found nothing, not in our system, the detailed system logs, in the payment processor or our email provider. There is simply no evidence that anything like (the reporter) described was done using Airnoise.”

Create own noise report
“We allow people to create an account on the service, which includes providing true and accurate contact and address information, and then select the airport near them that’s causing noise problems. When they are bothered by the noise of passing aircraft they can click a button on a web page in their Airnoise account to trigger a search for aircraft near them. If we find one, we collect a bunch of details about the flight (aircraft type, altitude, distance from their home, route it’s flying, airline or operator, the current weather, etc.) and then file a detailed noise complaint with the appropriate airport.”

“In order to find aircraft near someone when they trigger a complaint, we use publicly-available ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast) data. Most aircraft are equipped with a digital ADS-B transponder, and there’s an FAA mandate that all aircraft flying in the US be equipped by January 2020. This data includes GPS-based aircraft position information and can be searched in real time to locate aircraft. We combine that with data from other sources, such as FlightAware, to positively identify an aircraft and the route it’s flying.

“We provide a wealth of data in each complaint that would otherwise be impossible for the average person to know or find, data that can help airports understand what’s driving the complaints. There’s no reason a human should have to open a web page and type all this information in by hand — machines can do it instantly and flawlessly,” said McCann.

Verify report
He said people have to verify that they have access to the email they sign-up with by clicking a link in an email we send them. If they don’t do that within 24 hours of creating their account they are locked out of the account until they do verify it. The same goes if someone changes their email once they set up their account. We also use a service that geolocates their street address, converting that address into a latitude and longitude so that we can determine how far away the aircraft are. If someone provides a bogus address that can’t be geocoded, the system alerts us.

He said he personally receives an email any time an account is created on the system. “If anything looks amiss I dig in deeper and, if necessary, contact the person to verify the account.”

Complaints cannot be filed from Airnoise that include someone else’s contact information. The information in the account (name, address, email, phone, etc.) is provided to the airport to which the complaint is filed. You cannot game the system and file complaints using someone else’s contact information. If someone’s data appears in a complaint generated by Airnoise, that same data will be in the database and the system logs and will be found.

We allow people to create free accounts (which still must be verified) that can file up to 30 complaints each month. If someone wants to file more complaints we charge a nominal $5/month fee to cover the costs of operating the system (which runs in the thousands of dollars each month). The Airnoise.io web site can be used on a mobile phone just like a regular app.

With a paid account people can also get an Airnoise button (the device that was pictured on your blog article). This device connects to the user’s WiFi and allows them to trigger a complaint with a single click. The point here is to let people express their displeasure with disruption and get back to their life as quickly as possible. Paid users can also file noise complaints using text messages.

Complaints at Paine
McCann said earlier this year he was contacted by several around Everett who “were concerned about the additional noise and pollution and asked me if I could add Paine Field to Airnoise. It was simple to do, so when commercial service started in March, people were ready to use Airnoise to file noise complaints.

“The number of noise complaints there skyrocketed, as you described in your blog. The reason was simple: Airnoise,” McCann told B-Town Blog.

The Herald article was blamed by McCann for some misinformation including having received “several hundred confirmations  of complaints filed in their names. This would seem to indicate that these are paid accounts with unlimited filings.” McCann says he asked airport officials to provide truth but no one provided any if “hundreds” of complaints had been filed over “two months” and they suspected Airnoise was being used, how come no one at Paine Field or Snohomish County contacted me, and to this date, still hasn’t?

Without directly stating “Airnoise did it,” he says the Herald reporter described supposed fake complaints in detail, mentioned the creation of “accounts”, and then described Airnoise as a service that allows people to file noise complaints quickly and easily.

The reporter, says McCann, claimed that 235 complaints were filed in Arif Ghouse’s name on October 24, 2019, the date of the county airport commission meeting. There were just 38 complaints filed with Paine Field that day from Airnoise, by 16 different users. Every one of those complaints was in the name of a registered, valid Airnoise user.

While Airnoise was not used in filing fraudulent complaints at Paine Field, McCann said he is “certainly re-examining our security and verification processes” to prevent possible future abuses he claims here made upon Airnoise.