Archive for the ‘Mary Ellen’s Meanderings’ Category

Sustainable Opulence

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

Vegas, Baby.  Just returned from four days in Vegas, attending the ACI-NA Environmental Affairs Conference and the TRB Environmental Impacts of Aviation (AV030) Mid-year meeting. 

This year the Environmental Affairs Conference teamed with the Operations and Technical Affairs Conference.  There were several joint sessions, most notably on Integrating RNAV/RNP into the airport setting.  Other hot topics included:

  • Further discussion of FAA’s impending Program Guidance Letter on Residential Sound Insulation.  Latest word is that ACI-NA and other industry groups will have an opportunity to review the draft shortly.  Stand by.
  • Air toxics and other ongoing air quality studies in the Los Angeles area.
  • Strategies for noise stringency at upcoming CAEP meeting.
  • PBN implementation and integration with airports:  “NextGen begins and ends at airports”.

Our TRB meeting covered a lot of ground in a few hours, including:

I had been dreading holding two environmental meetings in Las Vegas, which I have long considered one of the least sustainable places on earth.  However, after listening to these two guys talk about water conservation initiatives in Las Vegas – not just including the Strip, but especially the Strip – I was quite impressed.  Following the meeting, several of us had dinner in the Aria Hotel, which has achieved USGBC LEED Gold Certification.   More on the City Center’s Environmental Commitment – including an on-site cogeneration plant, specially designed low flow shower heads, and CNG limos here.  My only wish is that it would be more visible to the tourist with an environmental conscience.  This is one of those cases where what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Keeping with its commitment to sustainability, CityCenter has commissioned the first stretch-limo fleet powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).


Got PBN?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

Apologies for the somewhat belated post, but here’s a quick recap of the recent UC Davis Noise and Air Quality Symposium: Navigating NextGen, held March 4-6 in Palm Springs, CA.

The focus of much of the discussion at this year’s symposium was implementation of the FAA’s NextGen Program, the early phases of which are now being rolled out across the country.  This blog has discussed NextGen issues before, but I think this was the first conference I’ve attended that attendees were uniformly focused on finding ways to make implementation a success.

The symposium keynote was delivered by Dennis Roberts of the FAA’s ATO. Dennis is responsible for managing FAA’s Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM) “metroplex” projects, a systematic, integrated, and accelerated program to implement satellite based navigation in the aviation system.   HMMH is involved in several of the metroplex projects, including the Houston Metroplex, which is on the President’s Federal Infrastructure Dashboard, which was initiated to monitor the pace of DOT efforts to accelerate major infrastructure projects by improving permitting and environmental review processes, and to improve the accountability, transparency, and efficiency of Federal actions. 

Other sessions focused on providing an overview of NextGen technologies and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) terminology, as well as airport experiences implementing and collaborating with FAA on the implementation of procedures at their airports.  The takeaway message from the entire symposium is that there is an urgent need for airports to get involved with NextGen airspace planning – airports understand local issues and provide a critical link between communities and the FAA.  Many airports have also spent years developing noise abatement programs and must be at the table to ensure that airspace planners understand both the spirit and substance of noise abatement.  As active participants in several of these projects, we at HMMH believe that this collaborative approach will be critical to early success of NextGen.

Presentations for the symposium can be found here (click on the presenter’s name).  Next year’s symposium will be held in Orange County, CA.  Please let me know if you have suggestions for topics for discussion.

The Deeper Meaning of Rudolph

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer











I have reached the age where I’m trying to be more reflective and purposeful (aka, midlife crisis).  Or perhaps it’s just that my husband’s deep thinker tendencies are rubbing off on me.  Here’s what he has to say about Rudolph:

  • So.  The family was all together watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last night (Mama in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap).  Our youngest daughter, the seven year old, asked if any of the reindeer were girls.  If you’ve seen the show recently, you might recall that the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh all are clearly males: the bucks all have antlers and the does don’t.  However, a quick Google search suggests that that this is actually backwards:  male reindeer typically lose their antlers before December, while the females, which do have antlers, retain theirs. But while the show does get a couple of mere prosaic facts wrong, it’s the mythic aspects of Rudolph I find interesting.

BTW, as further proof, David also pointed out that many of the reindeer names in Clement Moore’s original poem (A Visit from St. Nicholas) while conceivably gender neutral in 2011, were probably quite feminine in mid-nineteenth century America (just think about Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, and Cupid for a start).  This launched a long discussion of whether this 1960s portrayal of Rudolph is actually an anti-feminist screed – don’t forget that Coach Comet shoos Clarice and Mrs. Donner (she’s never named) back to the cave because searching for Rudolph is “men’s work”.  But I digress.  There’s more:

  • Mythic, you ask? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Well, Rudolph himself is pretty much your basic Joseph Campbell “hero-with-a-thousand-faces”. You’ve seen him before; he’s Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, all those guys.  However, the other characters are bit more nuanced. Consider King Moonracer.   Who is he and why is he even in RTRNR?  If you don’t recall, King Moonracer is the sovereign of the Island of Misfit Toys.  The misfit toys are in hell and Moonracer is the Lord of the Underworld – he’s the god Hades.  He’s not the Christian devil; he’s not evil.  He presides over those who are unloved and no longer alive.  He also represents the Anti-Santa.  Santa rules Christmastown with mercy and compassion; if you’re good, you get toys (and I’ve noticed, at least in our house, that Santa brings the naughty kids plenty of toys, too).  Hades rules with old-fashioned Old Testament judgment: when Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius ask to stay, Moonracer rejects their request and only allows them to spend a single night on the Island – just enough so they know the taste of being truly forgotten and unloved.


King Moonracer
















Yukon Cornelius






But that’s not end of the story, of course. Rudolph and his friends leave the Island to confront and overcome their fears (though Yukon dies and is raised from the dead – but that’s another story).  Santa sees his own errors of judgment and together Santa and Rudolph redeem the Misfit Toys.  And we hear them exclaim, as they fly out of sight — Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Up next:  The Grinch

Nails on a Chalkboard

Friday, November 11th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I had an “NPR moment” the other day, but it was not the kind they advertise on pledge drives.  This story about Why Nails on a Chalkboard Drive Us Crazy had me sticking my fingers in my ears in a way I hadn’t since high school.  Not good when you’re driving (so I’ll caution you, too, before you click through to be sure you have hands free).

The team of German and Austrian researchers, Michael Öhler of the Macromedia University for Media and Communication in Cologne and Christoph Reuter from the University of Vienna, first picked out two sounds they determined were the most annoying to people: scratching fingernails on a chalkboard and squealing chalk on a slate.  They then played the sounds to a group of volunteers, half of whom were told their real origin and the other half who believed they came from contemporary music.  The researchers found that people who believed the sounds were art rated them as less grating than those who knew where they really came from, suggesting a psychological component to people’s annoyance.

But they also found that the research subjects had clear physiological reactions to the noises, such as increased heart rate, sweating and blood pressure regardless of their beliefs of the sounds’ origin.  This is apparently the consequence of the frequency of the sounds, between 2,000 and 4,000 hertz, which hits the frequency range over which the human ear is considered to be most sensitive because of the anatomy of the ear canal, the scientists said.

I’m blogging about it because it makes two points that are relevant to human reaction to transportation noise:  frequency and attitude.

  1. First, transportation noise also happens to have most of its acoustic energy in the same mid-frequency range (also babies crying – see my previous post on that issue).
  2. Second, attitude plays a significant role in our response (annoyance) to sound (noise).  The chalkboard research showed that when subjects were told before listening to it that the recording was “modern music”, they were much more tolerant than when they were told they’d be hearing nails on a chalkboard.  We often joke about people being much more tolerant of “the sound of Freedom” near military bases, but there is good reason.   Sandy Fidell has written extensively that a significant portion of the variance in annoyance dose-response curves (comparing aircraft noise exposure doses to levels of high annoyance) can be attributed to attitude toward the noise source.  Airports that take this to heart, and make concerted efforts at public outreach, can attest to the difference that attitude makes.

Fortunately, in the case of both chalkboards and aircraft noise, technology has evolved significantly in the last 30 years, so that the need to stick our fingers in our ears is much less.

We are here! We are here!

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m just back from ACI-NA’s Annual Conference.  As usual, it was a great opportunity to find out the latest on industry trends, network with colleagues, and have a little fun.

Airports Council International logo

This year’s conference was also especially rewarding for me, because we demonstrated that we can have a voice if we mobilize, articulate our expectations (Occupy Wall Street could learn something from the ACI-NA Noise Working Group here!), and bring consistent messages to decision-makers.

So here’s the story:  the FAA has been drafting a Program Guidance Letter on Eligibility for FAA-funded Residential Sound Insulation Programs (RSIP) for several months.  A significant point of concern is the expectation that this PGL will make clear that homes will need to meet a two-step eligibility criteria:  (1) that they are exposed to exterior noise levels of more than DNL 65, and (2) that the interior noise level exceeds DNL 45 dB.   Both ACI and ACC have been sharing concerns with FAA regarding this guidance, but it seemed to no avail until this weekend.  During the Environmental Affairs Committee’s Preconference Seminar, Dan Frazee of SAN (Noise Working Group Chair) and Michael Hotaling of C&S Companies gained the attention of other ACI-NA airports by stressing the urgency of this issue.  Here are some of the key points made in those discussions (thanks again to Michael for summarizing):

  • Consistency – Airports have, in good faith, implemented the programs approved by FAA under Part 150 with Records of Approval that have simply stated that residential structures within the DNL 65 dB contour are eligible. Airport sponsors nationwide have been consistent in their strategies to invest AIP grant funds and reporting to FAA the results of their progress through annual status reports and acoustical testing reports. The spirit and intent of Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act (ASNA) is focused on a premise of consistency.
  • Lack of Legal and Technical Basis for the PGL – FAA has cited a number of historic pieces of legislation and guidance documents as the basis for this sudden change in interpretation to use DNL 45 dB as a pre-requisite for a home to be treated. Research as far back as the Noise Control Act of 1974 has yet to reveal any legal basis for DNL 45 dB to be a defensible legal standard for acceptable interior noise levels.
  • Current AIP Handbook Conflicts – The current version of the AIP Handbook was published in 2005 and included the addition of language that Part 150 states DNL 45 dB is the threshold of compatibility. Part 150 does not indicate any interior noise level standard. It only speaks to the compatibility of land uses with respect to exterior noise levels.
  • Inconsistent Strategies for Allowed Mitigation Measures – The application of a DNL 45 dB interior noise level as a pre-requisite for sound insulation treatment seems in conflict with the other mitigation options permitted by the AIP Handbook. There is no “secondary” qualification criteria in order for an airport sponsor to acquire a residential property or offer any of the other mitigation options.
  • Acoustic Testing Variability – The current methodology of conducting pre- and post-construction acoustic testing has a range of variability inherent to the process. The majority of the acoustic testing specialists follow American Society for Testing and Materials protocols and the accuracy of these protocols can range between two to four decibels. If FAA were to implement a strategy where DNL 45 dB became the new qualifying criteria, the variability in the testing process would significantly complicate the situation.
  • Spirit and Intent of ASNA – The spirit and intent of ASNA appears to have been to equip airport sponsors with the most flexible means of implementing programs to reduce noise for their communities. It is difficult to perceive from the language in ASNA that the intent was to exclude the majority of the homeowners from receiving the benefits of sound insulation. Rather, it appears the intent was to be inclusive.
  • Exposure – This sudden shift in policy application places airport sponsors with ongoing, or soon to begin, sound insulation programs in a very precarious position. San Diego International Airport’s Quieter Home Program has treated nearly 2,000 homes since it began in 1999 relying on AIP grants for 80% of program costs, and the FAR Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study Update that was approved by FAA in 2011 indicates there are approximately 9,000 homes remaining in the CNEL 65 dB contour. Changing program policy mid-stream that would likely eliminate the majority of those 9,000 homes from the program, in the middle of a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program would radically alter the community’s acceptance of that CIP. San Diego’s program is a result of a litigation settlement with the community because of noise impacts that dates back to the 1980s.
  • Public Relations Disaster – A noise mitigation program is the most visible and effective tool an airport sponsor can deploy to respond to community concerns and opposition. Sound insulation programs have been embraced by airport neighbors with most programs treating 90% or more of the homes within the DNL 65 dB contour in these voluntary programs. After investing significant time, energy and resources to recover from issues that arose early in the acquisition program at Louisville International Airport, the Airport Authority now enjoys a very effective trusting relationship with the community for the sound insulation program that began in 2008. This 1,200 home program has completed about 100 homes to date and a change in the policy would destroy the good will that the Airport Authority has worked so hard to build over the last 20 years.
  • Planning and Development Obstacles – Many airports have leveraged sound insulation programs to build the bond with the community who see the program as a fair trade-off for supporting (or at least not objecting to) master planning and capital development programs. Buffalo-Niagara International Airport has recently updated their NEMs which eliminated about 200 homes from the DNL 65 dB contour in their original 1,700 home program because of changes in the fleet mix operating at the airport. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority worked carefully to send the message to the community that while it was unfortunate that homes were eliminated from the sound insulation program, it was a technical issue. While there has been some objection from the community, this change has been largely accepted because of the defensible technical issue. The PGL implementation would eliminate hundreds more homes and put NFTA in a precarious situation with the community in the middle of an airport master plan and ongoing capital program.
  • Evolving AIP Handbook – It is interesting to note the shift between the .38B (May 31, 2002) and .38C (June 28, 2005) versions of the AIP Handbook in the Noise Compatibility Projects chapter. The inclusion of language incorrectly stating that FAR Part 150 sets the interior standard at DNL 45 dB, suggests that a more thorough review of this chapter is warranted and that perhaps the most appropriate course of action is to revise the AIP Handbook to be in alignment with the letter and intent of ASNA. This seems to be a more practical and functional approach than a hastily launched PGL that would have devastating effects on airport noise mitigation programs.

Following the Environmental Affairs Committee discussion, Roy Fuhrmann (MSP), ACI-NA Environmental Affairs Committee Chair, presented the issue to the ACI-NA Board of Directors.  I’m told the discussion at the Board meeting lasted for twenty minutes.  Shortly after, phones starting ringing at FAA.

The end result:  at yesterday’s “Open Mike with FAA” session, Christa Fornarotto, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports acknowledged that FAA needs to “be in listening mode” on this issue, and that they will more actively engage in discussion with industry partners to arrive at an acceptable solution.  We all need to stay up to date on this issue – we’ll do our best from here.

After the meeting, I emailed Michael, and told him I felt like a “Who” from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who.

Horton Hears the Who book cover

Source: Wikipedia, 2011