Flight Tracking and Noise Complaints FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


Typical ABQ Flight Paths

24 hour flight track image (February 1, 2018) of arrivals and departures at the ABQ Sunport

Typical Arrival and Departure Flight Paths

Aircraft typically arrive and depart heading into the wind. At the Sunport, winds tend to flow out of the east and west. Though flight paths in and out of the Sunport are fairly consistent, variations are to be expected based on air traffic, weather conditions, and overall safety.

How does weather effect aircraft noise?

Spring and fall in Albuquerque are typically very pleasant and many people choose to leave windows and doors open and more time is spent outdoors. As a result, noise from aircraft and vehicle traffic tend to enter into the home and generally increases the awareness of noise.

There are many atmospheric conditions that can vary the intensity of aircraft noise. Noise propagation, or the transmission of sound waves through the air, can be influenced by wind, temperature, cloud cover, and fog. Inversions, which form when the air temperature increases as altitude increases, can also affect aircraft noise. These types of weather conditions slow the atmospheric absorption of the noise waves and may cause aircraft to sound louder.

Wind direction and wind speed have a direct impact on the direction that aircraft can take off and land. As much as possible, aircraft prefer to take-off and land into the wind. Pointing the aircraft into the wind increases the speed of the air flowing over an aircraft’s wings as it takes off and lands, which helps to increase the margin of safety in case of an engine failure or other such problems.

Why are planes flying over my neighborhood?

The Sunport has three runways: 08/26 which has an east/west orientation, 03/21 which has a northeast/southwest orientation, and 12/30 which has a southeast/northwest orientation. Air Traffic Control has the sole authority and responsibility for routing and separating aircraft throughout the airspace system. Air Traffic Control’s top priorities are always safety and efficiency.

The Albuquerque metropolitan area experiences many types of aircraft overflights that may or may not be related to Sunport operations. At any point, the Albuquerque airspace can experience en route long haul flights traveling at very high altitudes, general aviation or other commercial aircraft traveling to and from nearby airports, military aircraft, or local law enforcement aircraft.

Who instructs the pilots when and where to turn?

Commercial pilots fly designated routes to and from the Sunport as instructed by FAA air traffic controllers. The FAA is responsible for managing Albuquerque’s airspace and for ensuring the safe and efficient flow of air traffic.

Can the Sunport do something about helicopters flying over Albuquerque?

Typical complaints concerning helicopters tend to be related to the military, law enforcement, medical flights, and media. Most of these helicopter flights do not originate or terminate at the Sunport. Additionally, helicopters may fly below minimum altitude requirements if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the ground.

Is there a minimum altitude requirement for aircraft flying over residential areas and school yards?

The letter of agreement between the Sunport, Air Traffic Control, and Kirtland Airforce Base 58th Special Operations Wing is to climb as expeditiously as possible in order to overfly any residential areas at or above 6,500 feet mean sea level, which for most of Albuquerque is approximately 1,500 feet above ground level. Helicopters may fly below these minimum altitude requirements if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the ground.

Local and state authorities do not have jurisdiction over airspace regulations and, therefore, cannot mandate that aircraft and/or helicopters fly at higher altitudes.

Aircraft operating under visual flight rules outside or beneath the Air Traffic Control Tower’s airspace are not required to use air traffic’s services and may fly unrestricted. A pilot can freely select his or her route and altitude with no restrictions other than those flight rules establishing minimum altitudes for flights over populated areas and required separation distances from clouds and terrain. The Federal Aviation Regulation Part 91.119 indicates that, except when necessary for departure or landing, the minimum altitude over urban areas is 1,000 feet above ground level and 500 feet above ground level over rural areas.

Why do some aircraft seem louder than others?

Aircraft operating at the Sunport have a diverse range of noise levels, primarily dependent on the type of engine used by the aircraft, the size of the aircraft, and whether the aircraft is taxiing on the airfield, landing, or taking off.

How is runway use determined at the Sunport?

The decision to utilize a specific runway is determined by variables such as weather, capacity, airport layout, aircraft performance, procedures found in the letter of agreement, and aircraft density in the surrounding airspace. When wind conditions allow, traffic density and arrival/departure streams determine the runway use at the airport to ensure the most efficient and safe flow of air traffic.

Each morning, Air Traffic Control sets the airport’s flow for the day based on the prevailing winds. Due to the complexities of re-routing aircraft to alternative runway ends, the flow is not changed unless wind conditions require it.

Will registering a noise complaint change how the airport operates?

The Federal Aviation Administration has the sole authority in determining where aircraft will fly and how the airport will operate. These decisions are made based on standard air traffic control procedures; noise complaints are not considered when making these decisions. A considerable amount of effort is spent on processing, researching, and analyzing aircraft noise complaints and this information may be shared with the FAA.

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