Posts Tagged ‘faa’

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. 

First World Problems, cont’d

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

by Mary Ellen Eagan,

For those of you wondering if I ever got home, here’s the exciting conclusion:

  • DL 2045 (DCA to DTW) scheduled departure 5:15 pm; actual departure 5:54 pm
  • DL 158 (DTW to BOS) scheduled departure 7:50 pm, actual departure 9:50 pm

Grand total for the trip:

  • 9 boarding passes
  • gate-to-gate Day 1: 6 hours
  • gate-to-gate Day 2: 11 hours
  • flight miles BOS-DCA: 393

People were remarkably patient with the situation. Sure they’re angry, but are placing the blame where it belongs: Congress.

I’d be tempted to call this a ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day’, except I’m sure the air traffic situation will get worse before it gets better.  Also, after last week in Boston, it will be a long time before I really have a ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’.

Alexander and the 'Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst

Alexander and the ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst

If one of the main functions of society is to facilitate the movement of people and goods, I think we’re failing pretty spectacularly this week. First world, indeed.

FAA Publishes Noise Land Guidance Letter

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

by Gene Reindel

Is your airport eligible to participate in a pilot program to redevelop properties previously purchased for airport noise compatibility?  Per the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the FAA, today, has published Program Guidance Letter (PGL) 13-04 that provides eligibility, project requirements and a checklist for airports to apply for $5 million to redevelop acquired “noise land”.  In addition to grant funding, an eligible airport may submit a PFC approval request.  The FAA is authorized to provide funding at a maximum of four airports for a total of $20 million.  The pilot program authority to issue grants sunsets September 30, 2015.  This pilot program is intended to encourage compatible land uses and generate economic benefits.

Flight Track Data Update

Monday, October 15th, 2012

by Gene Reindel

Apparently the days of free flight track and aircraft identification data direct from the FAA are over.  Beginning this summer, the FAA began informing noise and operations monitoring system (NOMS) vendors of this impending change, but airports were not made aware of this until very recently.  Airports are being asked to come up with as much as $24,000 per year to continue receiving this vital data.  There is no data acquired by NOMS more important than the flight track and aircraft identification data.  Airports that have been acquiring this data for free, must find additional budget during times when airports are trying to reduce their costs.  This change could not have come at a worse time.

Report from 2012 ACI-NA/World Conference & Exhibition

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’m just back from the 2012 ACI-NA/World Conference in Calgary, Alberta.  Highlights of the weekend’s Environmental Affairs Conference included the following:

The ACI-NA/World Conference and Exhibition kicked off with the Calgary White Hat Ceremony, a symbol of the Western hospitality and good cheer that made everyone feel very welcome.  Somehow I’m having trouble imagining that happening with a bunch of Red Sox hats…

Calgary White Hats Ceremony

Monday’s keynote speaker was Zanny Minton Beddoes, Economics editor for The Economist. She had some great things to say about her predictions for the economy, some of which was actually reassuring (for a change).

The Exhibit Hall was the usual mélange of consulting firms, concessionaires, and airport engineering products and services – everything from carpets to trains.  The Hall is always a great chance to catch up with folks – see who has switched companies, grab a latte, check out who has the best swag, etc.

Finally, I must say I was disappointed not to get a chance to explore Calgary, which seems a vibrant city, awash in oil and gas money. What little I did see (see photos below of the Family of Man and The Famous Five) was beautiful. Next time!

Family of Man, Calgary

Famous 5 Statue (not Clint Eastwood!), Calgary