People on Mariner Street have a system: When a plane flies overhead, they stop talking or turn up the volume on the remote control.
A few seconds later, the noise fades and they pick up where they left off, until the next jet comes along.
It's a way of life for those in the flight path of Tampa International Airport.
But life may be about to change.
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority has hired a consulting firm to soundproof up to 43 homes around the airport. In exchange, homeowners would give up air rights over their property.
"On the surface it sounds pretty good, but I need to see how far it's going to go to alleviate the situation," said homeowner Arnold Hubbard.
If successful, the program could resolve many of the longstanding noise issues for people who live in Mariner Estates, a finger of land that juts into Old Tampa Bay. Residents would get relief from the jet engines and the airport would get rights to fly over their homes.
The plan calls for replacing doors, windows and other openings to the outdoors with soundproof materials approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The hope is that residents can talk on the phone without being interrupted when a plane passes.
"There will be a noticeable difference," said Nate Sears, project manager for the architectural group, Hanburg, Evans, Newill, Vlattas and Valladarez of Tampa. "You'll still be able to hear stuff outside, but it just won't be as loud."
Sears and his firm were awarded the $884,000 contract in December. It covers a long list of FAA-mandated items, from the creation of policy and procedure manuals to the hiring of asbestos and lead paint specialists.
It doesn't cover the soundproofing costs, which are estimated at $50,000 to $100,000 per house.
Architects plan to start visiting homes in the next few months. They will measure noise inside and out, take an inventory of every opening and draft an action plan.
While some residents welcome the relief, others oppose spending so much to study 43 homes, some of which may not qualify for the soundproofing.
"They are making it a bureaucracy," said Joe Gonzalez, who moved to Mariner Street in 1999. "They should have said, "Let's just pay these people for their air rights.' "
Gonzalez said he hesitates to take part in the program because he would lose his legal standing against the aviation authority should he decide to sue. He also questions how long the soundproofing lasts and what happens if he wants to remodel.
Besides, he likes to leave his windows open.
Participation in the federal program is voluntary. Homeowners who don't take part can sell their air rights (for significantly less than the insulation would cost) or do nothing at all.
Money for the project comes from airport fees and revenue, not general tax dollars. In all, it will cost about $2.8-million, said Nadine Jones, project manager for the aviation authority.
Opponents say using public money to soundproof homes is unfair. People chose to live near the airport and should have known about the noise. Furthermore, if they can afford a waterfront home, they can afford soundproofing.
Residents argue the noise has gotten louder and will get worse once a new runway is built and air traffic increases. They contend the airport should compensate them for adding noise.
A total of 15.5-million passengers traveled through Tampa's airport in 2000, up from 10.5-million in 1990. By 2013, airport officials estimate that number will go up to 20.2-million.
Despite the increase, the number of daily flights will likely stay at about 560, officials said. Rather than add flights, airlines will use larger planes. They also will retire older, noisier models.
Resident Billy Herndon said jet noise was not a big issue when he bought his house 19 years ago. Planes were less frequent and less powerful.
"I never thought about it and no one ever mentioned it to me," he said.
Ideally, Herndon wanted the airport to change the flight patterns. Now, insulating his house may be the best, but not perfect, alternative.
"The soundproofing would help the inside of the house but it will never do anything for the outside and we practically live outside," he said.
_ Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3394 or thurstonsptimes.com.