In the wake of widespread community grumbling and a recent meeting with local and federal elected officials, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island leaders reinitiated a long-abandoned practice this week by releasing a flight schedule for the Navy’s small airstrip on Central Whidbey.
A news release Monday announced that field-carrier landing practice, commonly knowns as touch-and-go operations, would restart Tuesday, Jan. 8, at Outlying Field just south of Coupeville following the holiday season.
Flights are planned for the afternoon to early evening hours through Thursday and during the afternoon only on Friday. The release advised that weather and operational or training requirements could result in unexpected changes to the announced schedule.
According to base spokesman Mike Welding, the Navy plans to publicize a similar flight schedule in local newspapers and on NAS Whidbey’s Facebook page on a regular basis.
“Our plan is to be consistent and get it out every week,” Welding said.
“It’s an outreach program to let people know what’s going on with the training operations at OLF Coupeville,” he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a December meeting with elected officials and the base’s top brass to discuss an outpouring of community concern over jet noise this past summer.
Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, who worked to set up the meeting, is hailing the gathering a success. The schedule was a result of the meeting and discussions about how communication with the public could be improved, she said.
While this will not solve the issue of jet noise, providing residents with a little more predictability about when jets will be buzzing over their homes may help mitigate the problem, she said.
“It doesn’t make (the noise) acceptable but it’s nice to know,” Conard said.
“I believe this is just a first step in improved communication,” she said.
Attending the meeting with Conard was Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, a representative from Second District Congressman Rick Larsen’s office, Navy League President Jim Slowik, base commander Capt. Jay Johnston and other leading base officials.
“I’m pleased that NAS Whidbey Island has taken my suggestion to share more information about their flight operations with the community, consistent with Navy security requirements,” said Larsen, in an emailed statement Tuesday.
After hearing complaints about aircraft noise, particularly at the Outlying Field, Larsen said he directed his staff to work with base and community leaders to find ways to improve the situation.
“NAS Whidbey Island has long enjoyed strong community support, and I am pleased that base leaders are committed to being good neighbors,” he said.
Larsen added that the community and base now have an action plan to improve communication. Conard confirmed that additional meetings are in the works and future discussions will address a range of issues, from possible building code changes that would make homes more sound proof to clarifying the agreement homeowners sign when buying homes on Central Whidbey.
Ken Pickard, founder of the community group Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment, also applauded the Navy’s republication of a flight schedule but expressed doubt about its effectiveness.
He called it an “improvement” that might help some people, but for most, he said it will not suffice.
“To me, telling us when we’ll be tortured doesn’t help,” Pickard said.
In December, Pickard started an online petition to stop flight operations at the airfield and over Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. It has garnered more than 1,150 signatures.
According to Pickard, the recently created group has hired an attorney, and is investigating legal options to stop flight operations.