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Increasing demand a strain on Ault Field, says Navy
North Whidbey residents are hearing the impact of the suspension of operations at Outlying Field Coupeville.
The Navy shifted all of it’s aircraft training to Ault Field.
Whidbey Island Navy Air Station Public Affairs Officer Mike Welding said Outlying Field Coupeville is not closed, but, in June, the Navy decided to temporarily suspend field carrier landing practices there until the end of this year.
The decision created operational impacts, Navy officials said, and is not considered to be sustainable for the long term.
Suspension of field carrier landing practices at OLF has forced the Navy to do all training events at Ault Field, Welding said.
That, he said, is interfering with other necessary operations, causing delays and operational conflicts.
“It’s been louder and more frequent, but I don’t care,” said Debbie Brundage, owner of Rings and Things on Ault Field Road.
“If they weren’t here we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “We knew they were here when we bought our house. Yeah, you get mad, but I knew it was here.”
North Whidbey resident Garrett Newkirk has complained frequently about the jet noise over his family’s 500-acre farm near Dugualla Bay. Newkirk contends that the noise and pollution reduced the value of the property his family has owned since before the Navy arrived on Whidbey Island.
“We’ve noticed a considerable increase in jet noise,” Newkirk said. “They were flying until at least 11 p.m. … We have to wear earplugs.”
Welding said the landing practices at Ault Field occupy the tower, and sometimes cause excessive delays in other aircraft taking off and landing. Occasionally, they must reschedule some training events due to landing strip availability.
“The suspension of flights at OLF has also increased workload on our air traffic controllers who must balance FCLP pattern activity with other flight operations at Ault Field,” he said.
The increase in activity at Ault Field has also been noticed in areas other than on Whidbey Island.
The Whidbey News-Times received a telephone call from a Sequim resident who reported hearing loud jet noise around 9-10 p.m. across the waterway. Welding confirmed that the Navy was conducting field carrier landing practices until midnight and that he had received a similar call.
While the field carrier landing practices or touch-and-go operations are possible at Ault Field, the quality of the training is not the same as at OLF Coupeville, Welding said.
“Conducting FCLPs at OLF Coupeville better replicates the experience of landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, particularly at night,” Welding said. “Conducting FCLPs at Ault Field, while still valid training, does not provide the quality of FCLP that Coupeville provides.”
Former Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell, who lives on North Whidbey, said he’s noticed increased jet noise as well. He appeared before the board of commissioners Monday to stress the importance of having an outlying field that best simulates the an aircraft carrier at night.
A retired Navy pilot who trained at OLF Coupeville, McDowell said that, because of the increased traffic at Ault Field, the jets are forced to fully land instead of performing the touch-and-go patterns available at OLF.
This increases the size of the jet pattern, he said, covering much more ground.
“When doing touch-and-go operations at OLF, you get to keep the flight patterns tight,” McDowell said. “If you have to make a full stop, it makes for longer patterns and affects more people.”
The Navy is receiving feedback on both sides of the issue.
Welding said NAS Whidbey is getting comments in support of the base and its missions as well as against the flight operations and the noise they produce.
It’s tough to analyze the data and determine whether public opinion is leaning one way or the other because there are a lot variables to keep in mind, Welding said.
These variables, he said, include operational tempo, time of day and season.
“At this point, we have not conducted an in-depth review and analysis of comments using our new comment system,” Welding said. “However, all comments are reviewed providing feedback to the operations department as well as an opportunity for our staff to inform citizens about flight operations and air activities around the airfields.”