Archive for July, 2013

Are we having fun yet?

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

by Mary Ellen Eagan

It was with some surprise that I heard TJ Schulz, incoming President of the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) quote me saying we don’t have fun anymore.   But apparently I did, in an article that has just been published in Airport Consulting.  The point I was trying to make is that one of the things that has changed most over the course of my career is the sense that folks are so busy being efficient, productive, and yes – billable – that we don’t take enough time to appreciate our colleagues.   There is apparently a great body of research to support the fact that ‘fun at work’ is important to success.

 

Airport Consulting, Summer 2013

Airport Consulting, Summer 2013

This issue also has a good discussion of generational issues in the workplace, and I’m interested that there are even general differences in thinking about what’s ‘fun’ at work.  So maybe this summer – when things might be just a little bit less frantic – we should try to relax.  Just a bit.  It’s good for us.

LTC Kurt Hellauer

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I thought I’d take a moment to recognize the deployment of Kurt Hellauer, LTC US Army.  Kurt joined us a little over a year ago, and has been an invaluable contributor to our recent (and ongoing) PBN NEPA projects, including the Midway Airspace Redesign Environmental Assessment, the Houston OAPM Environmental Assessment, and the North Texas OAPM Environmental Assessment.  He will be on active duty in Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom beginning next week.

It is particularly poignant for Kurt and his family as they have finally moved to Boston just this week!  So it was with much happiness, some sorrow, and a great deal of pride that we simultaneously welcomed Kurt to the neighborhood and said goodbye for a time.  Please join me in wishing Kurt well on his journey and supporting Amie, Mary, and Erin as they also begin a new chapter of their lives in Massachusetts!

A toast to Erin, Kurt, and Amie Hellauer!

A toast to Erin, Kurt, and Amie Hellauer!

I was going to write something about the sacrifices that military families make.  And then I found this, which I think sums it up nicely:

“In our military families, we see the best our country has to offer. They demonstrate the virtues that have made America great for more than two centuries and the values that will preserve our greatness for centuries to come. With loved ones serving far from home, military spouses take on the work of two. Their children show courage and resilience as they move from base to base, school to school, home to home. And even through the strain of deployment, military families strengthen the fabric of each community they touch and enrich our national life as shining examples of patriotism.”   –  Barak Obama, 2012

Thank you for your service, Hellauer Family!

A “perfect storm” – Recent actions by all three branches of the federal government address more types of aircraft noise, and acknowledge that adverse effects extend beyond traditional noise contours.

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

by Ted Baldwin

Serious federal attention to aircraft noise began around 1960, largely in response to community concerns (okay, complaints) related to the introduction of early air carrier jets (“airliners”), in particular the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.

For the past half century, the federal government has largely focused its attention on aircraft noise associated with succeeding generations of airline jets at commercial service airports.  General aviation (g.a.) airports, g.a. jets, propeller aircraft, and helicopters have been a secondary focus of attention to all branches of the federal government, as illustrated by the following examples:

  • Legislative branch:  Congress has focused on laws phasing out older noisier aircraft over 75,000 pounds, which largely represent air carrier jets.
  • Executive branch:  The FAA’s development of the Integrated Noise Model (INM) has largely focused on modeling air carrier jets, as exemplified by the database’s most extensive coverage for that category of aircraft, with increasing dependence on substitute modeling surrogates as aircraft weight decreases.
  • Judicial branch:  Legal decisions have largely accepted arguments that significant noise exposure and associated liability extend only to the 65 decibel (dB) Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) contour, on which g.a. aircraft and helicopters have relatively little effect;  typically the 65 DNL contour from these aircraft alone encompass little – if any – off-airport land.

To build on the “ocean” metaphor in the title of this posting, the airline jet noise “tide” is ebbing, largely as the result of federal legislation and FAA regulations that force the retirement of 14 C.F. R. Part 36 Stage 1 and 2 jets over 75,000 pounds, and require applications for new “type certification” to meet Stage 4 requirements.  Local noise abatement and land use compatibility programs have complemented these federal actions (and frequently benefited from federal funding and implementation support).

One potential federal response might be to declare “mission accomplished” on the noise front, and turn the focus to areas where the tide is rising – both literally and figuratively; e.g., emissions-related contributions to climate change, which appear to be associated with storms that threaten coastal airports and result in operational delays at airports at all elevations.

However, recent actions show that the federal government is taking a different approach, and turning its focus to previously neglected – or at least lower-profile – noise issues associated with g.a. airports, g.a., jets, and even helicopters.  Again, this “changing tide” is reflected across the board at the federal level:

  • Legislative branch:  In the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012,” Congress prohibited, after December 31, 2015, regular operation in the contiguous 48 states of civil aircraft weighing 75,000 pounds or less that do not meet Stage 3 noise levels.  See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-07-02/pdf/2013-15843.pdf.)
  • Executive branch:  As summarized in its “Aviation Noise Impacts Research Roadmap,” the FAA is supporting a number of initiatives recognizing a broader range of noise issues, such as the accuracy of the INM for modeling g.a. aircraft and enhanced modeling of taxiway noise.
  • Executive Branch:  In a more applied case, the FAA adopted a final rule on July 6, 2012 that requires helicopter pilots to use the North Shore Helicopter Route when operating along the north shore of Long Island, New York.  The purpose of the rule is to “protect and enhance public welfare by maximizing utilization of the existing route flown by helicopter traffic one mile off the north shore of Long Island and thereby reducing helicopter overflights and attendant noise disturbance over nearby communities.”  (see http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/media/NYNShoreHelicopterFinalRule.pdf)
  • Judicial branch:  In a recent opinion that denied a petition by the Helicopter Association International (HAI) for judicial review of the preceding mandatory helicopter route, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit supported the other executive branches in their focus on lower levels of noise exposure related to operations by non-airline aircraft.  (see http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/1C20D137DFF53DAD85257BA600539826/$file/12-1335-1446255.pdf)

It should be noted that the Long Island helicopter route rule addressed in the preceding two bullets was initiated by two federal legislators representing Long Island residents – Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Tim Bishop – who conducted a meeting in October 2007 with the FAA, local helicopter operators, and airport proprietors to specifically address noise complaints stemming from helicopter operations along the north shore of Long Island.  While only the executive and judicial branches took formal action, the process involved significant input by these legislators as well.

The mandatory helicopter route is particularly significant because it represents divergence from several prior federal positions related to the longstanding “line in the sand” that the federal government has drawn at the 65 decibel (dB) Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) contour: 

  • First, it reflects major divergence from the prior federal position that reduction of sensitive land uses exposed to noise above 65 dB DNL was a de facto prerequisite for approval and support of noise abatement or compatible land use actions.  In its brief responding to the HAI petition, the FAA acknowledged that the route would not produce any benefit at or above this level of exposure, and noted that it “has authority to act without first demonstrating that a specific noise level has been exceeded.”  Furthermore, the FAA brief cited the “Long Island North Shore Helicopter Route Environmental Study,” which it had tasked the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to conduct.  That study concluded that prior to the adoption of the mandatory route, no residential population along the route was exposed to noise above 45 dB DNL, even on busy holiday weekends (e.g., around Memorial Day and July 4th, 2011).
  • Second, it reflected the first time – of which this author is aware – that the FAA relied on complaints as a fully sufficient basis for adoption of a formal noise abatement procedure.  In perhaps its most blunt statement regarding complaints, the FAA brief responding to the HAI petition stated “[w]hen people take the time to complain about helicopter noise to the FAA and their elected officials, there is a noise problem.”

The FAA’s justification for and defense of adopting a mandatory noise abatement rule based on noise complaints and with open acknowledgement that the benefit outside the 65 dB DNL contour by a 20dB margin is an extraordinary divergence from decades of FAA policy and decisions regarding noise compatibility actions.  As just one example, readers may recall that in its determination that the Naples (FL) Airport Authority (NAA) adoption of a ban on Stage 2 operations “was unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory” and therefore in violation of federal law, in part because the “NAA’s use of complaints … does not support a finding that the Stage 2 ban is reasonable.”  (”Director’s Determination,” FAA Docket No. 16-01-15, March 10, 2003.)

These recent actions by all three branches of the federal government clearly acknowledge that aircraft noise impacts worthy of addressing in the most formal manner need not be justified by federal land use compatibility guidelines, are not limited to particularly noisy aircraft, and do not even require quantification in decibel-based terms.

While the applicability of these actions as precedents in addressing other noise concerns across the U.S. will undoubtedly be the topic of vigorous debate for some time, airport noise stakeholders – including aircraft operators, pilots, airport proprietors, state and local government land use jurisdictions, airport neighbors, and others – should follow the federal lead in taking a fresh look at creative bases for demonstrating benefits and considering – or reconsidering – the full spectrum of noise abatement and compatible land use measures that might be applied to aircraft noise sources of local concern.