San Franciscans press their congresswoman to arrest airport noise

Photo credit: Bill Abbott licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who is featured in this Curbed article, is one of 16 members of California’s Congressional delegation who are actively involved in the 47-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Her San Francisco constituents have a strong chapter of the the Caucus’s regional support network, The National Quiet Skies Coalition, which has chapters in nearly two dozen states.

Last year, the 50 members of Congress who sit on the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus thought they’d achieved meaningful change when they succeeded in getting specific noise-control requirements in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauuthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law in October 2018. Sadly, the FAA doesn’t appear to be taking congress very seriously, as most communities near major U.S. airports have still not gotten any relief.

What’s insightful about the article above is that Congresswoman Speier is pressing for further changes—such as fines against airlines if they land planes during certain night-time hours. Few Americans know that there’s a global United Nations agency called the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is based in Montreal Canada. ICAO has regulatory authority over such matters as how much money can be levied as fines for noisy operation. This tactic used at the local level could help communities get the quieter conditions they yearn for, and the sleep they need.

If nothing else, fining airlines for noisy aircraft could stimulate those airlines to do what 50 airlines around the world have already done: purchase quieter aircraft–such as the 70% quieter Airbus A320neo when equipped with the American-made Pratt & Whitney “Geared Turbofan” engine.

We have no financial ties to airlines or aircraft manufacturers, but it seems essential to us for Americans to realize that quieter jet aircraft exist and are already flying safely around the world—but that only a couple of U.S. airlines have bought them. Why? Don’t we deserve quieter airports here in America too? Why do America’s airlines continue to buy noisy aircraft when quieter and more fuel-efficient alternatives already exist?

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 (15)

  1. Jonathan Wang

    Mr. Sykes –

    Can you help me understand a couple of points in your post?

    1) How do you believe ICAO rules for fines would apply in the US, given the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA)? Additionally, I would expect that the FAA’s regulatory authority would override any rules promulgated by ICAO.

    2) The EU’s certification noise tests for the A320neo suggest that the neo with P&W’s geared turbofan is only marginally quieter than the old A320. Those tests show a reduction of 2 dB on approach, 3 dB at cruise, and 4.5 dB at takeoff. Where does your 70% number come from?

    Reply
    1. Tony Anthony Verreos

      Thank you Jonathan. You are correct.
      Mr. Sykes is a technical expert, however, what we are dealing with is not a technical matter. We are dealing with government bureaucracy on steroids abusing the American public. Congress laid all the ground work for this to happen, and they seem ill suited to fix it.

      The courts have already expressed their will in Phoenix, essentially telling the FAA to put it back like it was.

      The LA City Attorney is pressing for essentially he same thing.

      To those many of us around the country who have been fighting this noise war for many years, it’s curious to find your postings represented as a national organization, but welcome to the club.

      Reply
  2. David M. Sykes

    D. Sykes answering your questions: I see you are affiliated with the Westchester County Airport project…what is your affiliation?

    Answer 1: ICAO has regulatory authority and it’s rules have been used by other countries (e.g., Korea) to fine airlines for noisy takeoffs & landings. How ANCA would affect (or FAA overrule) ICAO is an interesting question…what is your knowledge of or expertise about this? If you have specific knowledge, we’d love to hear from you about this.

    Answer 2. News sources as well as P&W cite the stats about the P&W GTF engine being “70% quieter; 16% more fuel efficient.” If you know of independent studies comparing the A320neo equipped with P&W’s GTF to (a) earlier versions of the A320 with the GE Safran engine (or another power source), and to (b) Boeing’s comparable aircraft (ones that are actually flying, not grounded like the MAX), we would love to see this, so please let us know!

    Our interest is in letting communities know that quieter jet engines ARE available NOW–made in America by a large and reputable American company–and that U.S.-based airlines already have practical, safe, fuel efficient and quieter alternatives available to them. Citizens groups might have better luck implementing local enforcement efforts based on ICAO’s authority (as it has been used abroad) than they have had trying to convince FAA, Boeing and GE (Boeing’s exclusive jet engine supplier for the grounded MAX) that “quiet” matters enough that they should do something about it. That battle has been fought and lost repeatedly for nearly 40 years. Furthermore, electrically-propulsed, large commercial aircraft, while exciting, will not be available to replace commercial fleets for at least 20 to 30 years (although smaller electrically propulsed aircraft are actually available for purchase now).

    Reply
    1. Tony Anthony Verreos

      Mr. Sykes – Public news sources ie: General Electric PR Dept. claims their LEAP jet engines are 70% quieter, 30% more fuel efficient, and 25% less polluting. Later articles note many airlines opt for less expensive alternatives. US military is a big purchaser of the GE Leap. It was also noted to have developed some unexpected maintenance problems which again increase cost.

      If you are not already well familiar with the 1990 Aviation Act and others which have been passed with aviation support for the purpose of limiting citizen/resident’s legal rights to take any actions against their operations, you can find it all online. One person has a site compiling all of those laws.

      We are all over this, as the first thing that most smart people say when confronted with this noise is; there must be a way to stop this. Someone must have missed something. Well, no. Lots of really well educated people including aviation attorneys have been all over this for years.

      The only way this changes is by force of the courts. The FAA runs divide and conquer with the best of them. That is what we are all up against.

      Reply
    2. Jonathan Wang

      Mr. Sykes – sorry for the delayed response, I had expected email notification of your reply but didn’t see it.

      On point (1), I am not a lawyer, but there are many cases where the FAA departs from ICAO standards. For example, the FAA’s 65 DNL significant noise standard is well above ICAO’s 55 DNL standard. FAA radio phraseology is different from ICAO’s. It was only last year – and with significant resistance – that the FAA adopted ICAO’s forms for flight planning. In general, I find it highly unlikely that communities could avail themselves of ICAO standards when those are in opposition to US law.

      On point (2), all certified aircraft must be tested for noise. Airbus is regulated by EASA; hence their certified noise levels are available at https://www.easa.europa.eu/easa-and-you/environment/easa-certification-noise-levels. If you compare the older vs. neo variants of the A320 at similar weights in that database, you will see the numbers I arrived at. This is not particularly surprising, as P&W is likely referring only to the noise for their engine in isolation. I believe (but cannot find the citation) that aerodynamic noise is the bulk of aircraft noise, especially for aircraft on approach.

      Reply
      1. David M. Sykes

        Mr. Wang, Thanks for your comments. Having worked on the National Academy of Engineering report (2006-2011) “Technology for a Quieter America,” I am as troubled as anyone about the FAA’s steadfast refusal to listen. That’s why I think campaigns directed at the AIRLINES (that could “BuyQuiet” aircraft, but don’t bother to do so), is a “market-based” approach that could lead to change faster–particularly since Boeing’s entire global fleet of 737MAXes (with their exclusively GE engines) is grounded indefinitely. The Airbus A320neo (with it’s P&W GTF engines) is an AVAILABLE alternative and a safe, quiet one.

        Reply
        1. Jonathan Wang

          Anyone advocating that airlines spend a very large amount of money to replace their fleet must be very sure that the replacements actually address the problem. The certification data do not suggest that the A320neo with P&W GTF engines would actually achieve that goal.

          Reply
  3. Anne Hollander

    David — I am a citizen heavily impacted by aviation noise from newly channelized flight paths, and I am also a founding member and leader of the Montgomery County Quiet Skies Coalition of Maryland (www.mocquietskies.org). I am a great fan of your blog on noise! FYI, our group has done a lot of research on legal options to address the relentless noise from aircraft, and we have learned to our dismay that the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA) completely negates the ability of local airports to impose noise restrictions on aircraft. From Aviation and Airport Development Law News “…Airport Noise and Capacity Act, 49 U.S.C. § 47521, et seq. (“ANCA”) which has, since 1990, affirmatively preempted local laws which impose: “(A) a restriction on noise levels generated on either a single event or cumulative basis; . . . (D) a restriction on hours of operation.” 49 U.S.C. § 47524(c)(A) and (D). ‘ In short, noise restrictions and even restrictions on hours of airport operations are FAA’s authority and FAA’s alone. It’s TERRIBLE but true. Also, I don’t believe ICAO has any authority over US airspace — only the FAA does. So while I admire Congresswoman Speier’s legislative initiatives, it is our understanding that some of them would not be lawful unless ANCA were repealed first.

    Reply
    1. Tony Anthony Verreos

      Hi Anne – Thanks for filling in the specifics of 1990 Aviation Act.

      I’ve never seen David’s blog before this post that my friends at Quiet Skies Puget Sound
      posted to FaceBook today. I’m concerned that nationally all of our groups have failed to
      attract thousands of more members.

      One common thread repeated by the FAA and many attorneys is: each of these Metroplex areas, or cities is unique. In reality that all have much more in common than they have differences; Cities allowed residential construction to move closer to the airports over time, only Denver relocated to a farther out location, most have water/ocean, or low density residential land that was used to reduce noise over the most highly populated cities, all of us had tolerable noise that was widely dispersed prior to NextGen. Many location’s airports had funded some residential sound proofing work, none did an adequate job of noise monitoring, and none monitored LMAX noise = what we hear.

      The imposition of 65DNL and in CA 65CNEL is a fraud which uses math to mask the actual noise we hear.

      I can support all of Congesswoman Speiers aviation bills, but based on her actions to date I doubt most will even make it out of committee.

      What she could have done, and should still do is simply acknowledge reality, and join us in our national call for the FAA to REVERT; keep NextGen which is just the FAA’s brand name for a group of software programs, and revise it to all run the flights the way they were before; higher up, farther out, very widely dispersed.

      See STOP Jet Noise NOW! American

      Reply
    2. David M. Sykes

      Ms. Hollander, Thank for your comment and your sketch of the long-entrenched ANCA problem. As noted above in my reply to Mr. Verreos, we’re strong believers in “market forces” (i.e., competition from abroad) as a mechanisms for forcing change. Sometimes, simply encouraging an acceleration of change will happen faster than court-based remedies. We’re in favor to trying what ever works, and encouraging AIRLINES to “BuyQuiet” instead of trying to twist arms at the FAA is an approach that hasn’t been tried–but AIRLINES (sometimes) listen to customers, whereas the FAA only listens to their minders in industry and Congress. Point is there ARE quieter alternatives available NOW, but AIRLINES are not buying them.

      Reply
  4. David M. Sykes

    Mr. Verreos, Thanks for your comment. I certainly understand the FAA’s ability to overrun everything and everyone who’s stood in their way for decades. However, I’m not a fatalist. Eager to hear about your strategy for making change happen?
    I tend to believe that “market forces” (l.e., competition from abroad) will force change quicker than the courts will. But whatever works!

    Reply
  5. David M. Sykes

    Mr. Verreos, Thanks for your comment. I certainly understand the FAA’s ability to overrun everything and everyone who’s stood in their way for decades. However, I’m not a fatalist. Eager to hear about your strategy for making change happen?
    I tend to believe that “market forces” (l.e., competition from abroad) will force change quicker than the courts will. But whatever works!

    Ms. Hollander, Thank for your comment and your sketch of the long-entrenched ANCA problem. As noted above in my reply to Mr. Verreos, we’re strong believers in “market forces” (i.e., competition from abroad) as a mechanisms for forcing change. Sometimes, simply encouraging an acceleration of change will happen faster than court-based remedies. We’re in favor to trying what ever works, and encouraging AIRLINES to “BuyQuiet” instead of trying to twist arms at the FAA is an approach that hasn’t been tried–but AIRLINES (sometimes) listen to customers, whereas the FAA only listens to their minders in industry and Congress. Point is there ARE quieter alternatives available NOW, but AIRLINES are not buying them.

    Reply
  6. David M. Sykes

    I certainly appreciate the many comments on the airport noise problem in America. Special thanks to Ms. Hollander, Mr. Verreos, and Mr. Wang. The source of steadfast resistance is, of course, the FAA. And the FAA is a unit of the famously arrogant and change-resistant U.S. Department of Transportation. That resistance is deeply entrenched in the agency’s culture going back decades. New Yorkers remember the famous battles in mid-century NYC between highway Czar Robert Moses and journalist Jane Jacobs. Today, the battles over transportation noise focus on airport noise, but the DOT and FAA’s response is identical to their response when the issue was Czar Moses using urban highway systems to destroy neighborhoods in the name of ‘urban renewal.’

    So the questions WE(The Quiet Coalition, of which Silencity is one of the dozen founding groups–TQC is a program of the Boston-baed 501(c)3 non-profit Quiet Communities Inc.) ponder are: if current resistance approaches aren’t working, then WHAT IS THE STRATEGY GOING FORWARD? What can we try that we haven’t tried before?

    Our answer (a strategic approach that has been working in the various noise-afflicted sectors we have devoted time and resources to) has these four parts: (1) build stronger local and national constituencies that do effective outreach to governmental leadership and media; (2) focus on the public health issue that noise exposure is harmful to health–particularly focus on strengthening the medical/public health science needed to support the public health argument; (3) encourage local use of the now-available “crowd-sourced data” apps that gather and report noise data (Apple’s new iPhone app is only one of several) and (4) emphasize the availability of practical, safe, environmentally friendly alternative energy sources.

    I’m spelling this out here, because we’re very eager to hear if other people agree that this is practical, and if not what alternative approaches they favor. We are, for instance, in the beginning stages of forming a noise-oriented “LDF” (Legal Defense Fund–an approach that has been helpful in the environmental world) – but at present we do not see court battles as practical or affordable simply because noise exposure, now being called “the new second-hand smoke” and “the next big public health crisis” doesn’t yet have sufficient public awareness to attract high-powered legal support.

    If you haven’t yet read NewYorker author, David Owen’s new book, “Volume Control–do so! In it, you’ll find that there IS growing awareness and evidence that noise really IS “the next big public health crisis.” https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/565059/volume-control-by-david-owen/

    Reply
  7. Anthony Verreos

    Hi David – It’s been another year since you wrote this article and had some exchanges with a few of us over it. And though its been a year like no other, the jets never stopped flying even when they drastically cut back operations. Many of us are so used to hearing them, that we remain stressed even when they do stop. It takes some conscious effort to not be stressed by noise, sort of like the lasting impacts of PTSD.

    We can see from the 2020 year end travel that the airlines are still packing em in even though in general vacation and business travel is on life support.

    You had mentioned four ideas to work on; (a strategic approach that has been working in the various noise-afflicted sectors we have devoted time and resources to) has these four parts: (1) build stronger local and national constituencies that do effective outreach to governmental leadership and media;
    A1) Without big money and a strong organization this is not realistic – most of us are
    working people or retired. No big group has shown any interest.
    The FAA’s strategy of divide and conquer has worked very well as they planned it.

    (2) focus on the public health issue that noise exposure is harmful to health –particularly focus on strengthening the medical/public health science needed to support the public health argument;
    A2) Yes – that makes perfect sense to us too, but next to no one seems to care other than
    a small number of us, and those people getting the research grants to study what we
    think has been adequately studied already both in the USA and EU.

    (3) encourage local use of the now-available “crowd-sourced data” apps that gather and report noise data (Apple’s new iPhone app is only one of several);
    A3) One of our longest tenured members believed that a lack of data was a barrier to
    action. I told him it was not, but still helped advance the cause, and eventually we
    got new noise monitors installed in Brisbane (near SFO, then he found out the meters
    were set at 65DNL, so in the end, the new data wasn’t moving the meter. It’s never
    been about data, it’s always been about money. The FAA always claim Safety is their
    top priority while they ignore the damages done to us and the planet by both the
    hidden cardiovascular impacts of noise, and the hidden impacts of ultra fine particle
    chemical pollutants. None of this is news to anyone. Congress could fix it if they
    actually cared to, but they don’t. And yet people believe the Green New Deal will
    help fix global warming.

    (4) emphasize the availability of practical, safe, environmentally friendly alternative
    energy sources.
    A4) I’m not sure how this fits in to the near term? But you had also mentioned the new
    engines are here and work. We know why the industry does what it does – they are
    just like the Auto industry which had to be forced to add seat belts and air bags
    because saving lives was not selling cars. If Congress sets performance standards
    for jet engines based on what the experts tell them is practical now, then they can
    tell the US aviation industry they can only sell and fly whatever meets those
    standards.
    I read that NASA also does research on aerodynamics and has discovered a means to
    reduce airframe noise (not engines) by 70%, but these announcements just seems to
    come and go, because there is not enough interest to keep them in the forefront.
    I support your thought that competition is perhaps the quickest motivator, however,
    when your industry is constantly getting federal bailouts which are generally not
    seen or felt by the public, why worry about competition?

    I agree with you that litigation is expensive, and slow, yet my sense is that a flood of lawsuits by cities and states in the wake of the Phoenix case would have created the pressure for the FAA to act, or possiblly spur Congress get off of their hands. But there are not enough people upset over this. Proof is the Womens march on Washington DC in 2016 drew near 1M people, other marches have drawn thousands, and most recently civil rights marches draw large crowds, but we can’t get 25-50 people to wear their PJ’s over their regular clothes and walk around in the airport lobby with signs that say “We Can’t Sleep!” Europeans seem to be far more willing to protest over jet noise and other environmental issues. Our people seem to reserve their protesting for civil and social issues.

    You must have seen the recently published long overdue FAA Community Noise Study. It will become another door stop for Congressional office doors. It points out some very serious differences between the @ 40-50 year old Schultz calculations on noise impacts, and the new study. The magnitude of differences is many multiples, and even though the FAA insists on refering to this noise as an “annoyance,” the numbers shown seem to demonstrate it is much worse than just annoying.

    BTW – our national petition to Congress; STOP Jet Noise NOW! America has recorded signers from coast to coast and north to south (some noteable cities are not represented for some reason – all are welcome) the count stands at 1,465 which though important to all who have signed it, tells us not enough people care, because if they did, we’d have at least 100X that number.

    Best wishes for 2021!

    Reply
  8. David M. Sykes

    This discussion (we believe) needs to shift quickly toward how to reach and what to say to Biden’s new leadership team, specifically incoming Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Now is an historic opportunity, but nothing will happen if we don’t get organized and focused. Buttigieg will replace Elaine Chao, (wife of ‘obstructionist-in-chief’ and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell). The years 2021-22 are the first potential “breakthrough moment” for the noise issue in many years. But we will miss this opportunity if we don’t get organized NOW. Pete Buttigieg will be a key player on Biden’s climate team (a powerful and expert group that includes several other cabinet officers). So it’s also necessary to link the noise issue to the climate crisis. So spell out what you want in succinct bullet points and get that out to the rest of us, and let’s get going.

    This truly is an historic opportunity. Defeatists will say “nothing we’ve tried has worked”–but take a look at the historical record to understand why: yes, entrenched bureaucracy. But also remember this: advocacy on behalf of the noise-control issue (in America) has, since the 1970s, been led a small, underfunded, insular professional society with a few representatives seated on the Nat. Academy of Engineering–a group that has never tapped into the growing body of medical/public health expertise on this issue. Instead, they’ve insisted that noise is purely a technical matter that only engineers can understand and fix. For example, they’ve never tried to fund and build a large public constituency. They also have never looked at the growing body of medical and public health expertise. Instead they’ve focused on technical matters like noise-measurement methods–an endless debate. We believe, noise control advocacy will ONLY succeed when all of us who want something done acknowledge that we have to get organized and agree to an agenda for change that we can put before Biden’s climate team, before the 50-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, and the large but disorganized National Quiet Skies Coalition. There really IS an opportunity to change this but we have to act noW. The fact that a handful of previous opportunities have not succeeded does NOT mean that we shouldn’t try again!

    Reply

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