Update: FAA reauthorization includes noise provisions

Photo credit: Manfred Irmer from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the recent FAA reauthorization did not mention aviation noise. That was incorrect. The NPR report that I had read and linked did not mention noise, but, as one of the commenters below has noted, Subtitle D of the reauthorization, entitled “Airport Noise and Environmental Streamlining,” contains many community noise provisions.

I agree with the commenters who say that the reauthorization was not a complete failure, and I applaud the efforts of the local Quiet Skies Coalition groups for remaining steadfast in keeping the pressure on the FAA and politicians to address aviation noise.  But it’s also clear that the FAA’s regulation of airplane noise is frustrating to those who live under the NextGen flight paths, and the FAA reauthorization’s noise provisions, while a step in the right direction, has citizen activists wanting much more. Indeed, as the comments below suggest, reaction to the reauthorization’s noise provisions range from “the language was sloppy, divisive, and minimally addressed our needs” to “this bill was a disgraceful sham, indignity and injustice to the American public!”

But for the millions of Americans subjected to airport noise, H.R. 302 is a really big deal because this is the first time in nearly 40 years that Congress has required the FAA to address the airport noise problem.

As this summary shows, Subtitle D (page 3) includes most of what the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and it’s national constituent assembly, consisting of 36 regional advocacy groups known as the National Quiet Skies Coalition, called for in their 2015 demand letter (pdf), and their 2017 national petition.

But they didn’t get everything they asked for, so is the glass half full or half empty?

Frankly, we’re amazed that after nearly 40 years of being ignored this subject got out of the transportation committee, was voted through, sent to the president’s desk, and was signed into law—with no fanfare at all.

We’ll learn soon enough whether anti-noise activists have something to cheer about or not. But in the meantime, what H.R. 302 demonstrates is that it takes a LOT of time, organization and attention to (political) detail to make things happen in Washington DC. But when enough citizens and their representatives put their heads together and commit to changing the status quo, they can, even in times like the tumultuous ones we’re living through, make things happen. Maybe the lesson is: keep your head down, and your voice low, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Comments (11)

  1. Roberto Gautier

    Just as the FAA ignores aircraft assaults on community health, so do other agencies of the government. E.g., one EPA official pushed back on efforts to mitigate air pollution by saying, “The air is too clean.” And, in NYC, the Department of Transportation refers to “congestion,” but leaves the discussion a bit flat by referring to “traffic congestion,” not lung and quality of life congestion. One of the key components of dealing with a problem is to define it.
    Keep up your energy because the community is in for a long and difficult struggle with the FAA and many others.

    1. GMB (Post author)

      Yes, we are in it for the long haul. Things change, and with more study and advocacy, change can happen.

  2. Roberto Gautier

    Please check your system. I tried to make a comment today, but was told that I already made that comment.

    1. GMB (Post author)

      Will do.

  3. Anne Hollander

    I am a member and leader of the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition in Maryland, which has been working very hard to address community noise impacts from aviation. While we are far from satisfied with the noise provisions in the FAA reauthorization, it is untrue that it contains no mention of noise from aviation. In fact, Subtitle D, “Airport Noise and Environmental Streamlining” of the FAA reauthorization contains numerous community noise provisions. While these provisions are nowhere near as strong as we wished — most are merely studies of the issue, and the FAA is directed to have a Noise Ombudsman in each region — there is much more in this bill to address noise than the previous, 2012 reauthorization which was a disaster for communities. In our opinion, this bill is a modest win for communities, and a step in the right direction — not a complete failure as you suggest. We agree that we all need to continue working hard to address noise from aviation!

    1. GMB (Post author)

      The post will be updated to reflect that provisions addressing noise were included in the FAA reauthorization.

  4. Suzanne Knight

    In my view the language was sloppy , divisive, and minimally addressed our needs. Sloppy by addressing only departures or metroplexes to the exclusion of arrivals and single site airports, and allowing more time for studiy that has already gone on way too long. Were this a study for airline benefit their lobbyists would ensure its swift conclusion. The untidy nature of the “noise” language speaks volumes and I hear Jim Spensley who remarked that these concerns are at the bottom of the list. I find the result unacceptable. Congress is not helping us. VOTE THEM OUT!

  5. Steve Dreiseszun

    Whoa. Your headline is flat wrong. “Noise” appears on 29 pages of the FAA Reauthorization. If you want to be critical of the manner the provisions were written, that’s fine. But your declaration is wrong and does not serve the effort to make change for communities that are suffering.

    I admin Let’s Make Some Noise on Facebook. Here in PHX, we know about this issue.

    1. GMB (Post author)

      We are going to update this post. We didn’t do a deep dive into the report. Rather, we relied on the NY Times write up. It’s clear from the comments that while noise was mentioned in the report–which was hard won and a very good thing–some people doubt that the noise provisions will deliver the relief people living under the flight paths seek.
      In any event, thank you for commenting. We will address this post.

      1. Steve Dreiseszun


        Unless there’s a court case, the national media generally doesn’t report on the noise issue. Here’s a link to the bill, for anyone that may have missed… https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/302

  6. Ken Phillips

    Congress FAAcks up the H.R.302 Increasing NextGen Jet Noise and Pollution Act
    Congress really FAAcked up H.R.302 Increasing NextGen Jet Noise and Pollution Act. They gave an EZpass for airplane superhighways in the sky about 1000 feet over our most precious neighborhoods, schools and parks, waking up Americans all night long and ruining any hope of enjoying being outside of our homes in our lifetime.

    First, Congress should know better than to put FAA in charge of evaluating it’s own product. Apparently Congress is not aware of the term “conflict of interest”. There needs to be an independent evaluation of FAA’s navigation impact funded directly by Congress and not at FAA/big industry’s choosing. I suggest that NIH provide the funding for public health studies to academic researchers, who are known to be at least somewhat independent of industry. At the very least a critical study by Booz Allen etc. to verify these that these so-called “simulations” have been corrected with unbiased real-world data reflecting real-time reality on the ground. Many government agencies have submitted to this type of Congressional scrutiny to improve their operation- why not FAA?! Do you really think that an “ombudsman” is going to do anything? In government, ombudsman is codeword for “co-conspirator to a crime”.

    Second, they should have revoked authorization for all NextGen flight paths (too low and too frequent) and made FAA and big industry prove that the flight paths are safe to communities and have no noise or ultrafine particle/black carbon impact BEFORE being allowed to reinstate them. Instead they put the burden of proof on cities and states to show that there is an impact. This was purposely done by the greedy cowards in Congress to appease all the lobbyist money coming from the air industry. We all know that FAA is going to manipulate the process to get what they want just as they have been doing so far with community advocacy groups. Why would you thank that they will suddenly change course (no pun intended) just because Congress passed a law giving them money? DUH! FAA has already shown over at least 10 years now that they are a criminal agency and the only way to correct their behavior is to FORCE them to act in a way that benefits those on the ground and not the airline industry. A good first step would be to remove all high-level FAA leadership who have been responsible for the current environmental disaster, and to do an FBI investigation of FAA worker ties before and after with the airline industry.

    Third, FAA leaders and aviation execs need to be required to purchase a home under a NextGen flight path (or better, two of the flight paths which converge, as they do in many cities, where there are over 200 flights every day). This would ensure that they have a vested interest in protecting the public health and property values in the communities that they are impacting with their decisions. There should also be a thorough review of where FAA employees moved in the periods before enactment of NextGen- anyone who moved out of a NextGen flight path should be imprisoned for using insider information to prevent financial loss.

    Finally, it is worth noting that the news media covering the Increasing NextGen Jet Noise and Pollution Reauthorization are utterly FAAcking clueless- all they talked about were drone provisions- there was no mention of the NextGen environmental disaster or Congress lack of willingness to deal with this horrific, criminal abuse of FAA’s authority. Who really cares about drones when we are all drowning in a sea of 747 afterburners? While there have been a few articles and mentions of this issue in the media, too many of them are smoking the FAA crack pipe and asleep at the wheel. Our Congress is more concerned with ideological charades than a real, immediate, and constant threat to our health and livelihood.

    In summary, this bill was a disgraceful sham, indignity and injustice to the American public! It did not only not go far enough, but barely moved the needle. I am doubtful that we will see any public benefit out of this, and in the meantime it will take years or decades before these studies are completed and in the meantime those of us on the NextGen highways will all continue to suffer as far as 50 miles from an airport. My suggestion would be to UNIFY ALL NEXTGEN VICTIMS GROUPS AND MARCH ON FAA AND CONGRESS IN WASHINGTON!!! If we had 10,000 people or more marching on FAA and Congress, perhaps they might take more notice. We also need a centralized planning committee with nationwide power and impact. We need national strategic goals and funding for advertisements and lobbying. We need to get curriculum in schools and have after school programs on how to leave complaints automatically with your airport and representatives.

    FAA purposely used a negotiation tactic of pushing far beyond what is reasonable, and it forces us to take back what is rightfully ours- peaceful quiet and clean air! The only way to do so is to band together and bring as many people and as many resources to the table as possible. As long as we stay isolated as individual groups in this county or that city, they are going to run right over us all. Just look at the Montgomery County court decision as an example. We will all quickly get run down and worn out unless we lock arms and fight this together!
    Sincerely, Ken Phillips, FAA NextGen Victim


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