Urge Congress to adopt regulations to REDUCE AIRPLANE NOISE

Dear Members of Congress:

We would like to bring to your attention to an issue of great concern to countless residents across the United States: FAA’s failure and refusal to manage Excessive Aviation Noise.

During the past year, the national news has been filled with stories about FAA's reckless implementation of NextGen air traffic control, impacting people near many major commercial airports, including Boston, Phoenix, Charlotte, Palo Alto, and the New York City area. NextGen switches air-traffic control from a ground-based system to a satellite-based one. As a result, commercial jets fly within a concentrated aviation superhighway rather than being dispersed over a wider area. Most significantly, the FAA is using NextGen to implement immediate turns upon departure (Grand Ave Phoenix being the most extreme example.)

But this is only part of how FAA indifference to noise impacts is destroying local residential quality of life. FAA's failures extend not only to these (and many other) major commercial airports, but also to smaller general aviation (GA) airports such as near Longmont, CO, Molalla, OR, Cloverdale, CA, Chatham, MA, Tecumsah, MI, Lancaster, OH, Oak Harbor, WA. Residents near these airports are repeatedly faced with impacts from aviation operations associated with skydiving businesses operating over exurban and rural residential areas. Similarly, many other communities are subjected to the frequent and repetitive aviation noise from other smaller aircraft, including sightseeing air tours, flight training, towing advertising banners, and hauling small passenger loads to places like East Hampton.  These activities, which are effectively unregulated with respect to noise impacts, are seriously degrading the quality of life in the affected communities.

As a specific example, consider the Longmont Airport. Skydiving operations, which have grown dramatically in recent years without consideration for the impact to surrounding communities.  While other planes take off and go somewhere, the jump planes remain within a designated “flight box” over residential areas for the entire duration of their flights.  Each flight climbs steeply and noisily to jump altitude, gaining 13,000 vertical feet in about 10 minutes.  Multiple jump planes operate concurrently, with peak activity on the weekends during the time when many people are trying to enjoy their homes.  And finally, they operate for more than 12 hours per day, creating nearly constant airplane noise.  These activities are akin to a noisy, persistent carnival operating above our homes. Here is a video illustrating the impact of skydiving operations in Boulder County, CO:

Mile-Hi Skydiving Noise Abuse Over Altona, Colorado

When concerned citizens approach the FAA for noise impact relief, they are routinely ignored and turned away. When concerned citizens plead with the airport authority for relief, they are consistently told that they have no authority due to FAA and the federal grant assurances.  When concerned citizens ask the operator to change their procedures, they insist they are compliant with FAA’s rules and refuse to make changes. 

The FAA compliance manual technically grants authority to the airport owner to adopt “reasonable regulations” for the purpose of reducing noise.  However, the FAA is also the final arbiter to decide disputes over "reasonable" versus "unreasonable" regulations, and they consistently rule that any proposed regulation is “unreasonable.”
While we appreciate the great complexity of managing air travel and our nation’s airspace, we want to highlight the severe and degrading effects of excessive aviation noise on residential communities. These noise impacts should be taken into account as part of a broad shift nationally to adopt more effective noise mitigation strategies.

To that end, we strongly urge you to support the provisions below and include them in the 2017 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. We are grateful to the members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus for their courage and leadership on this important quality of life issue.
Proposed 2017 FAA Reauthorization Provisions

1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure. Replace the 65 Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) noise threshold with the more appropriate 55 DNL, as proposed by the EPA. Additionally, require the use of supplemental metrics when assessing aviation noise, including frequency of flights, air traffic from 10 pm to 7 am and impacts of low-frequency noise. Include the 75 dBC maximum daytime single event noise limit among the set of noise metrics..

2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes. FAA is misapplying imprecise categorical exclusion (CATEX) rules included in Reform Section 213(c)(2) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. This provision provides a CATEX from adequate environmental reviews for flight path changes implemented through the NextGen process. These environmental impact reviews, which consider noise impacts, should be reinstated and conducted whenever flight path changes are under consideration.

3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.” A “flight box” is a geographic area typically associated with skydiving and aerobatics activities.

4. Restore local control over airport operations. Grant explicit authority to airport operators over selected airport operations for the express purpose of reducing community noise impacts, including:

a. Limiting hours of operation, number of operations, and days of operation for airport users who create significant noise emissions.
b. Limiting or denying access to specific aircraft based on noise characteristics
c. Limiting night-time operations
d. Limiting frequency and time of touch-and-go operations
e. Limiting or denying access to airport property for use as a parachute landing area, i.e. drop zone.
f. Adopting landing fees based on noise characteristics and time of day.
g. Adopting curfews for noisy aircraft.

5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
Increase the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in addressing aircraft noise pollution. The FAA’s role in promoting aviation interests is in direct conflict to the needs of local communities to manage environmental impacts.

6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.

a. Require annual noise exposure maps at 55 DNL
b. Require community noise monitoring at airports having more than 40,000 operations annually.
c. Require noise analysis showing effects of proposed changes in flight paths.
d. Provide community access to the noise data and analysis.
e. Require that all aircraft, including non-stage propeller-driven aircraft, be uniquely identified by radar (instead of using an anonymous beacon code)

7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas. These areas would include non-urban National Parks, Wilderness areas, National Monuments, National Seashores, and other sensitive and pristine public lands (except for emergency, research, construction and maintenance activities.


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