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.