Noise Complaints at OSU's Airport to Get a More Muted Response

After the release of its WebScene aircraft-tracking system in January, Ohio State University pledged to respond to every noise complaint about Don Scott Field.

But after several months of use, system operators at the Northwest Side airport found that a few people were filing the majority of complaints.

So instead, they are now limiting their responses to 10 monthly complaints per person.

WebScene, part of a $300,000 system to track and identify noisy aircraft, was billed as an efficient, interactive and accurate method for public complaints.

Critics, however, call it cumbersome and inadequate. And they now worry that the university will not sufficiently investigate each complaint.

"For a college of engineering to take a position that it is not going to look for root causes and only look for trends based on a statistically inaccurate and incomplete sample, is wrong. That's not engineering," said Scott Whitlock, an Olentangy River Road resident who sits on OSU's Airport Advisory Committee. "It would appear to be purely an exercise in public relations."

Cathy Ferrari, who oversees the flight-tracking system, says it takes about 30 minutes to investigate and respond to each complaint.

With just one full-time assistant and a few student helpers, she can't respond to all the complaints.

"The vast majority of complaints come from just a handful of people," she said. "We will record all the complaints and attempt to research them all ... but our priority is always going to be with somebody who files once or twice a month or infrequently."

Ohio State won't reveal the names of those who complain, but Ferrari said one person filed more than 70 complaints in February.

Typically, the airport receives 300 to 400 complaints a month, 80 percent of which are filed by six to eight people, Ferrari said.

A previous system, operated by a community group in Worthington, logged about 800 complaints monthly.

Whitlock said he filed 12 complaints last month. He remembers because seven woke him during sleeping hours.

The university's Airport Advisory Committee will meet tonight to discuss the selection of a contractor for a yearlong noise study to begin this summer.

Whitlock has urged Ohio State "to get control of this situation" because noise data collected will be an important part of that study.

Kim Nixon-Bell has been awakened repeatedly by aircraft noise above her Olentangy River Road home.

"Each one is different," she said of the flights.

Having the airport respond "helps me understand what it is I'm experiencing, what is going on over there -- what is unusual and what is not," she said.

Nixon-Bell also has found errors. Ferrari has said the university corrected those.

"I want to be an intelligent consumer .... and she's cutting off the information she's promised us," Nixon-Bell said. "There's no checks and balances."

Ferrari has said the university will continue to modify its complaint system and be attentive to concerns.

"We try to be very cooperative and very open."

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