Tag Archive: FAA

The Denialist Playbook and the FAA

Photo credit: MBisanz licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I was sent a copy of this FAA presentation to the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, FAA Powerpoint PDF, I had a moment of recognition: the FAA is using a play from what I call “The Denialist Playbook.” The Oxford Dictionaries define a denialist as:

A person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.

There appears to be a denialist playbook, just as there are playbooks for football teams. Just as one can recognize a screen pass play watching a football game, one can recognize the denialist plays when industries or government agencies try them. A well-documented example denialism can be found in the book “The Merchants of Doubt,” which chronicles how “Big Tobacco” issued statements and funded research to sow doubt about the dangers of cigarettes. No doubt Big Tobacco looked to the past. After all, when the lead contamination scandal unfolded in Flint, Michigan, it came to light that lead pipe manufacturers had trod the same path in the 1920s. And, of course, the conservative denial of climate change–continuing to deny that it is happening, even as the seas rise, the floods of biblical proportion inundate Houston, and the fires burn in California–would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious.

One version of the Denialist Playbook was described by Christie Aschwanden at Grist:

Step 1: Doubt the science.
Step 2: Question scientists’ motives and interests.
Step 3: Magnify legitimate, normal disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies as authorities.
Step 4: Exaggerate potential harms (scare the hell out of people).
Step 5: Appeal to personal freedom (I’m an American and no government official can tell me what vaccinations I need).
Step 6: Show that accepting the science would represent a repudiation of a key philosophy.

But I think that brief version omits several important basic plays from what I will call “The Complete Denialist Playbook.” Here are the playbook topics by chapter:

  1. Deny that there is a problem. Climate change denialism may be the most salient current example, but the FAA does this to a certain extent on Slide 4, when it states, “[a] factor of 20 decrease in community noise exposure has been accompanied by increased community concerns.” The FAA is staying that there isn’t a problem, when numerous media reports across the country document that aircraft noise is a major problem.
  2. When it becomes obvious that there is a problem, claim that it isn’t a major or real problem.
  3. Ignore those who complain about a problem, especially if they are young, women, or members of minority groups. This happened with the water problems in Flint, Michigan.
  4. State that there must be something wrong with those who complain about a problem. This was done by the conservative Mercatus Center in its “NIMBY report.
  5. Reluctantly admit that there might be a problem, but it isn’t associated, statistically correlated, and certainly not causally related with what reputable scientists think is the causative agent.
  6. Find fake experts who have views contrary to established knowledge but really are not experts in the field, even though they may have a PhD after their names.
  7. Fund research to find alternative explanations for the causation of the problem.
  8. Fund (in many cases through hidden funding mechanisms) consensus statements or even research that will obscure the true nature of the problem, i.e., sow confusion or doubt about the causal relationship.
  9. Cherry-pick the data and select research or quotes taken out of context to discredit established researchers and the scientific consensus to create an appearance of conflict or controversy when among experts there is none.
  10. Fund cultural or social organizations whose support can then be enlisted in fighting any regulatory efforts to control or ameliorate the problem. Philip Morris, among others, did this.
  11. Fund legitimate researchers looking for funding so that they will be reluctant to criticize their funding source or do research that may endanger their funding source.
  12. When the problem is so obvious that it can’t be denied, finally admit that there might be a problem, but insist that it isn’t a big problem.
  13. Offer alternative solutions to the problem which mask the real cause, e.g., soda makers funding youth exercise programs as a solution to the epidemic of obesity in young people, rather than admitting that sodas are a major, if not the major, contributor to obesity in your people.
  14. Invoke American freedoms to fight any regulatory efforts. Again, the tobacco industry did this, funding fake “Astroturf” organizations protesting that restrictions on smoking interfered with smokers’ right to smoke.
  15. Insist that the data are not robust enough and that more research is needed, which, of course, will take many years.
  16. Keep insisting that there is still doubt about the level of proof even when the overwhelming majority of scientists and even the public are convinced. The Heartland Institute, for example, still claims that there is doubt about whether smoking causes lung cancer.

It is the “more research” strategy that the FAA is adopting. On Slide 11 concerning cardiovascular health, the FAA states that “[e]xisting health study cohorts are being used to evaluate linkages between health outcomes a noise exposure while accounting for a wide range of factors,” with the research completion anticipated in 2020.

I have read some of the salient literature about aircraft noise and cardiovascular health, and attended several sessions on this topic and spoke with the world’s leading researchers in this field at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zürich in June, 2017. While there is always a need for more research, there is no need for further research into this particular topic because there is no doubt that aircraft noise causes cardiovascular disease. The basic physiologic mechanisms of how noise in general and aircraft noise specifically causes involuntary physiologic responses in the neuroendocrine and parasympathetic nervous systems have been well-described. A large number of epidemiology studies, using a variety of study designs, in a large number of countries, in different population groups, have shown that aircraft noise causes hypertension and cardiovascular disease. There can be no rational doubt about this relationship. These studies have been reviewed by Hammer et al., Basner et al., Munzel et al., and many others. As Basner noted in an editorial, the evidence is strong enough that most experts in the field think causality has been established.

In Europe, the adverse effects of noise on health are well-known, as summarized in a World Health Organization monograph on the “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise.”  The European Union is dealing with this in its European Noise Directive.

There is NO need to reinvent this wheel on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, unless scientists can prove Americans are biologically different from Europeans. The FAA insisting that more research is needed to document the health dangers of aircraft noise exposure in the face of hundreds of articles in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals is like the National Cancer Institute suddenly insisting that more research must be done to prove the dangers of smoking. How many more Americans must have their health damaged by aircraft noise–or even killed by it–before the truth is acknowledged? It is time for the FAA to act to protect the health of those exposed to aircraft noise, and if the FAA won’t act, for America’s congressional representatives to take action.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Tracking those noisy airplanes flying over your house

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As The Quiet Coalition has reported, people living all over the country have complained about airplane noise in the last few years. This is a result of flight path changes promoted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen program, which guides airplanes on more direct flight paths, saving time and fuel and making flying safer. Unfortunately, the FAA forgot to consider what happens to the people living below these newly concentrated flight paths, who are subjected to a barrage of aircraft noise.

The screenshot above shows the concentration of aircraft over the Los Angeles, California area.  Not surprisingly, newspaper and television reports have documented these problems in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and several cities near Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. I’ll stop there, but there are many more complaints in and around the 86 major airports in the U.S. In fact, the FAA just reported that it has received over 40,000 complaints of airplane noise from residents living near Washington DC airports.

In dealing with government agencies and elected officials, I have found that the best way to get someone to act is to document a problem as completely and as often as possible. For aircraft, that means reporting the date and time of the overflight, and ideally identifying the airline and flight number of the plane. I didn’t know that was possible until I was walking with a friend who pulled out her cell phone as an airplane flew far overhead, pointed it at the plane and said, “that’s the Qantas flight from Sydney.”

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

She showed me the Flightradar24 app that she had downloaded to her phone (a screenshot appears above). It identifies planes flying overhead, including the carrier, flight number, and type of airplane. There are several different levels of technology that can be purchased, obviously with more features costing more, but the basic app is free. There also are other flight tracker apps, but Flightradar24 appears to be best for this purpose.

If airplane noise is a problem in your neighborhood, get the app, start collecting data, and report it to your local council representative, congressional representative, local Quiet Skies organization, the FAA (contact them online here), and your local airport. Include the date and time, airplane identification data, and a decibel reading, if possible, using a sound meter app. At busier airports, flights depart every few minutes from early morning until almost midnight. Enlist a group of neighbors to take designated time slots to document the aircraft noise problem, or make documenting the problem a school science project. It’s hard to argue with the data.

Aircraft noise is a major health hazard, causing hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hospitalization, and death. Fighting aircraft noise will require accurate data, and Flightradar24 may be the way to get it.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Supreme Court on airport noise: “Go away!”

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition (with contributions by Jamie L. Banks, Jeanne Kempthorne and Gina M. Briggs)

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the airport noise case brought by the town of East Hampton, Long Island (of The Hamptons in New York).
This is an important case that The Quiet Coalition wrote about back in January and March.  This case is significant as it addresses an important issue of public health, because noise not only causes hearing problems, it also contributes to heart disease and other conditions.

There are 15,000 airports in the USA, 5200 of which have paved runways, and 376 have regularly scheduled flights. That’s a lot of neighborhoods and people exposed to the pollution and noise from take-offs and landings! Perhaps now that the Supreme Court has denied their petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., seeking review of a lower court decision), the East Hampton group will join the 36 communities in the National Quiet Skies Coalition and press their congressional representatives to join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. The Caucus has already petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and submitted a bill to Congress. But it’s going to take many more communities joining the battle to win this one.

Many people around the U.S.—on both sides of the airport noise problem—were watching to see what the Supreme Court would do. What the Court did was let the Second Circuit Court decision stand. That decision had invalidated the town’s restrictions on flights to and from the East Hampton Airport—which the town owns–after finding that the town did not have the right to impose the restrictions owing to a 1990 federal law that “limits the town’s authority to impose rules at the airport.”  NOTE: The FAA’s argument relied on federal preemption, and, in particular, the Town’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Second Circuit held that the Act applied even though the Town was had forgone federal funding for the airport.

Many locals were unhappy, with one telling the New York Times:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case was ‘indicative of the fact that when it comes to our own airport, we don’t have local control,’ said Barry Raebeck…. ‘It strikes me as decidedly unjust, as un-American. This is what we’re all about, local control. We have federal agencies dictating. I consider the F.A.A. a lobbying group for airport operators. You don’t have any rights unless you’re in an airplane in their minds.’”

Is this the end of the matter? No. But getting a case to the Supreme Court is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process. We congratulate those who have been waging this battle so far and urge them: PLEASE TAKE THE NEXT STEP! We’re reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who said:

“…Credit belongs to the [people] who are actually in the arena…who err and come up short…who spend [themselves] for a worthy cause; who…know the triumph of high achievement, and who, if they fail, fail while daring greatly; [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

We believe the key to winning the airport noise battle—indeed all battles about noise in America—is to challenge the FAA’s (and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s) long-held and politically convenient view that noise is “merely annoyance” with no appreciable effects on health or well-being. This is unfounded. In fact, the adverse health effects of noise are strongly supported by decades of authoritative evidence from medical and public health professionals. The use of the term “annoyance” is a shibboleth; that is, a term used to characterize the problem that is fundamentally wrong.

Noise control advocates now need to re-focus their efforts on the public health effects of noise—for which solid scientific evidence exists and continues to grow–and go back to court with new arguments until this battle is won.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Tired of jets flying over your neighborhood? Here’s what FAA is (not) doing to help you

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You may already know about the movement in Congress to address the problem of aircraft noise. A specific congressional caucus, The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, was formed to encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of aircraft noise around airports, specifically the problems caused by FAA’s “NextGen” program. “NextGen” is a bungled FAA program that has made the noise problem much worse for many communities across the USA–35 communities are already aligned with The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The noise problem applies to all airports, not just big-city transportation hubs. A recent Sun Sentinel article about NextGen problems in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a good piece to read about NextGen because it spells out what the FAA is—and isn’t—doing to “help” affected communities. Bottom line: If you squawk loud enough and long enough, they may agree to replace your windows and doors with “sound-insulating” ones—but how much money you might get depends on the assessed value of your house. But replacing doors and windows doesn’t stop the earth-shaking vibration from big jets, and it certainly doesn’t stop the noise outdoors in your backyard. As long as the FAA and its parent, the Department of Transportation, perpetuate the decades-old myth that noise is “merely annoyance” (i.e., has no appreciable effects on you other than to make you irritable), all you can do it take their money and suffer quietly. Only by changing the discourse and carefully spelling out that noise is a public health hazard will communities have the chance to turn this situation around.

The Quiet Coalition Chair, Daniel Fink, MD, asked me to add this note:

“Rest assured that if you are bothered by aircraft noise, you are not alone! ‘Noise as a Public Health Problem’ was the theme of the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) which recently took place in Zurich. I presented two papers there and am now preparing a summary of what I learned. The European Union is well-aware of the adverse health effects of transportation noise (aircraft, rail, and road traffic noise) and is taking steps to minimize its effects. I also presented a paper on the adverse health effects of transportation noise at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting on June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

There’s another very hopeful perspective on this problem, although admittedly down the road a few years: the development of quiet (electric) aircraft. Lithium-ion battery-powered airplanes and helicopters have already been developed and flown in Germany and in the U.S. So take heart, quiet electric aircraft could very well be flying by 2027, the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Did you know that older aircraft could be retrofitted to reduce noise while landing?

airplane

Yes they can, and members of Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation are asking JetBlue to retrofit older aircraft with noise-reducing equipment to make their descent into Logan International Airport less disruptive.

The bigger problem is the “new navigation system deployed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that concentrates more planes into narrower flight paths.”  As a result, complaints have spiked at communities surrounding airports all across the country.  So while retrofitting may bring some relief to beleaguered Bostonians, ultimately the FAA’s NextGen program needs a major overhaul, and one that includes participation by citizens adversely impacted by the program.  Fortunately, things seem to be moving in that direction as “the FAA and the Massachusetts Port Authority — which operates Logan — said they were creating a task force to investigate flight patterns and noise problems.”

 

Top Democratic representative seeks study on effects of airplane cabin noise,

man-in-airplane-cabin

expresses concern about the long-term effects of airplane cabin noise on flight crews.  The Hill reports that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written a letter to the Government Accountability Office raising concern “regarding permanent hearing loss and damage that airline personnel may suffer from by being exposed to loud noises for long periods of time.”  Representative DeFazio “expressed frustration over the lack of comprehensive data about cabin noise levels even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established noise decibel limits.”  To encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act on his request, The Hill reports that DeFazio “hinted that the results of the study may influence the next long-term reauthorization of the FAA, as the agency’s current legal authority expires next September, and urged “prompt and expedited completion” of the requested report.”

We will follow this story as well as others focusing on citizen complaints about the FAA’s NextGen program.  It looks like some accountability may finally be in the offing.

 

Citizens fight back against report that minimizes complaints about jet noise

planeJet Noise Is No Joke For Residents Burned By Report About Airport Complaints.  WAMU, American University Radio, reports that “[h]omeowners along the Potomac River in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are angrily responding to a report claiming that a ‘small, frustrated minority of citizens is affecting aviation policy’ by swamping the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority with thousands of complaints about flights leaving Reagan National Airport in Arlington.”  The report stated that one resident was responsible for the lion’s share of the complaints, implying that jet noise was not a significant issue to other residents in affected areas.  WAMU found another story when they went out to those neighborhoods to speak to residents who deal with a constant barrage of jet engine noise:

To folks whose days and nights are filled with the sound of jet engines overhead, the Mercatus Center report failed to capture the extent of the problem. They say the proof that noise pollution impacts more than a “small, frustrated minority of citizens” is that MWAA formed a working group consisting of people from neighborhoods across the region, and the FAA currently is working with civic associations and neighborhood representatives to potentially alter flight paths to mitigate noise.

Long and short, the reason for the complaints is the FAA’s new NextGen program, “which uses satellite-based navigation to assign planes to direct routes to save fuel and time.”  The program was implemented throughout 2015 in the Washington metropolitan area, giving rise to a spike in complaints.  And it’s not just an issue in D.C.  NextGen has created problems throughout the country, spurring residents to ban together to fight back against plane noise exacerbated by NextGen.