Why the FAA Reauthorization Act has not fixed airport noise

Burbank, California is a case in point that the FAA Reauthorization Act, signed by Trump in October 2018, hasn’t solved the airport noise problem.

Photo credit: Elizabeth K. Joseph licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Five years ago, 36 members of Congress, together with 36 community groups across the U.S., organized the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition to focus Congress on the Federal Aviation Administration’s flawed launch of NextGen, a program that has plagued communities with excessive noise and pollution—including Burbank, California.

This was a consequence of the Senate’s impatience about the stalled launch of NextGen. The transportation committee demanded to know why this program was stalled. The FAA complained that they were “slowed down by the requirement that we do neighborhood environmental impact studies.” To accelerate this program, Congress said STOP doing the studies; don’t collect complaints.

Burbank is one example of dozens of communities across the U.S. whose residents endure the aftermath. Other American cities affected include Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and many others. Most are represented on the Caucus.

NextGen was a good idea. Simply put, it aims to direct flights via satellite navigation, so air traffic will be more efficient and more airplanes will be able to use the same airspace, increasing safety, capacity and fuel efficiency. But Congress gave the FAA permission to ignore neighborhoods beneath the new, more tightly-controlled flight paths. Their lives have been seriously affected. For example, in Burbank, the flight paths changed from being over a freeway to being over neighborhoods—disrupting the lives of the people who live beneath the new flight paths. A new task force is being formed in Burbank to address the issue.

What should they do? Contact Congressman Adam Schiff and the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Why? In October 2018, Schiff and the other members of that group trumpeted their “success” in getting the FAA to address community noise complaints by inserting specific changes in the “FAA Reauthorization Act” signed into law by president Trump. But those changes haven’t fixed the problem. So Burbank’s citizens need to take this problem back to Congress.

Warning: the “FAA Re-Authorization Act” also authorized dramatic expansions of the use of drones—so if you see a pizza being noisily delivered by drone to your neighbor’s door, blame the members of Congress who let this happen.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Comments (2)

  1. kenneth phillips

    Everything passed by this congress on FAA is designed to give more and more taxpayer dollars to the airline industry.

    Research on better ways to evaluate jet noise? Really do you need to give FAA millions of dollars to do that? The solution is very simple- compare noise from jets with noise from a road 1,000 feet away. If a road requires loads of community meetings and environmental planning, why doesn’t a highway in the sky require the same?!

    1. David M. Sykes

      Author replies: “Environmental Impact Studies” are required–but to accelerate the FAA’s NextGen program, the requirement was suspended. The FAA Re-Authorization Act (which funds the agency) was intended to force the agency to (1) start doing those studies again, to (2) implement significantly more rigorous methods (aka “alternative metrics”), and (3) to hire a legitimate, independent public health research group to look at the health effects of aircraft noise (instead of simply asking one of the 16 universities that eat out of the FAA’s hands to do it. The problem now is getting the FAA to actually DO what the FAA Re-Authorization Act requires them to do. That’s why the 36 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus need to be vigilant.


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