August 20, 2019 Newsletter

Dear Neighbors,

Most of us have had a noisy summer.  There’s news and views about that and more in this edition of the Newsletter.

But first, a word about links in MailChimp.  We moved the list to MailChimp nine months ago.  Some people have had trouble opening the links in our Newsletters, some have not. If you have difficulty, please let me know.  We will follow up with MailChimp and try to find out why.
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NEXTGEN ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING ON JULY 30th
AND A LETTER FROM OUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO THE FAA


The NextGen Advisory Committee is an aviation industry group that plans satellite navigation routes.    Click here for the link to the NAC website.  

QQS first learned about the NAC in 2013.  We learned that communities had no representation in its decision-making.  We asked to be appointed as a representative of community organizations. 

Long-time QQS members may recall that we waited over a year for an answer from the FAA Administrator.  Then the FAA appointed the NOISE organization instead of a community advocacy group.  We work with our colleagues at NOISE, but our interests and jurisdictions aren’t always congruent.  We think NOISE should be a member of the NAC, but we need a seat at the table for the Quiet Skies Conference, too.  (That’s our coalition of community groups nationwide.) 

A letter from our members of Congress to FAA about the NAC

The NAC has rules for members of the public who want to attend and speak at its public meetings.  In the past, the NAC has not prioritized timely publication of information about their public meetings.   The rules have not been prominently displayed and deadlines for asking permission to attend, to speak or for disability accommodations have been very short.   It has been difficult for members of the public to have enough advance knowledge of when and where the meetings will take place.  The FAA may get better at it now, because of actions taken recently by Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gilllibrand and Rep. Grace Meng.

Two weeks before the July 30th NAC meeting, I was still wondering whether I was allowed to attend and speak; I also didn’t know the meeting time and location.  I asked Sen. Schumer for help.  His staff got in touch with the FAA and facilitated communication for the July 30th meeting.  I thank Sen. Schumer, and also Greg Schwab of the FAA, for their assistance with last month’s meeting..

As this was playing out, I communicated with Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Meng about difficulties generally in getting information about NAC meetings.  Last week, they wrote a letter to the FAA on our behalf. It suggests ways to increase public participation and transparency in the NAC processes.  Click here for a link to the letter.  This is an important letter.

The following is Rep. Meng’s press release.  On behalf of our QQS members, and everyone around the country, I thank Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Meng for acting on our behalf to get transparency on NextGen decision-making that affects us all. 

PRESS RELEASE

MENG, SCHUMER, AND GILLIBRAND CALL ON FAA TO INCREASE TRANSPARENCY OF PUBLIC MEETINGS ON NEXTGEN
 
NextGen is the FAA-led modernization of the nation’s air transportation system which also results in increased aircraft noise that negatively impacts local communities 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a joint letter to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) calling for the agency to increase transparency of public meetings held by the NextGen Advisory Committee. 
The Committee provides the FAA with advice and recommendations on ways to enhance and maximize the Next Generation Air Transportation System, commonly referred to as NextGen, which is the FAA-led modernization of the nation’s air transportation system that seeks to improve the safety, efficiency, capacity, predictability, and resiliency of U.S. aviation. However, part of NextGen’s implementation involves new flight routes that have caused communities such as Queens to experience increased levels of aircraft noise. 
In their correspondence to Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell, the lawmakers urged the agency to provide the public with improved notification of NextGen Advisory Committee meetings, more advanced notice of when these meetings are scheduled to take place, and to livestream each meeting. 
“Many of my constituents who continue to be impacted by excessive aircraft noise related to NextGen want to be heard about how this new technology impacts their lives,” said Congresswoman Meng. “The public deserves to be engaged on NextGen and this engagement must be a two-way street complete with dialogue and input from members of the community


At the July 30th NAC meeting

Members of the public are allowed to speak for two minutes at the beginning of NAC meetings.  This is a link to my comments, which I made on behalf of Queens Quiet Skies and the members of the Quiet Skies Conference.

I told the NAC members that their traditional community outreach model —  giving us information until we accept their plans (or not) — hasn’t been working.  They’ve been talking at us, they’ve been giving us “workshops”, but they haven’t been listening and they haven’t included communities in their planning.  Our objections have not deterred them an iota.  Last year, an industry lobbyist summed it up when she said, all we have to do is explain NextGen and the public will accept it.  I don’t think that strategy has been working for them. As our members of Congress just reminded the FAA, it’s a two-way street.

On the NAC’s website, you can look at the committee reports adopted by the NAC at the meeting.  There was a presentation about the Northeast Corridor Committee’s NextGen plans for the metro New York area.  They include “a new thrust” with a focus on New York, whatever that means.  There was also a report about a project in Philadelphia by which the number of flights has been increased up to 50%.  The way they did this was by increasing the number of flights operating at the same time on adjacent runways.  This new procedure has been certified as safe by the FAA, the agency that [kind of] certified the Boeing 737 MAX.

I stayed in the room for half an hour after the meeting.  A few people came by to say thank you for coming, but no one, and that includes FAA and NAC leadership, took the opportunity to have a discussion.

We will see over the next month or so if there’s any response by the NAC.  In the meantime, we need to go forward on the assumption that we will never hear from the NAC and that we must concentrate on legislation and litigation.  But we have extended a hand and are always willing to discuss and work together if there’s a good-faith commitment.
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FLIGHT AFTER FLIGHT AFTER FLIGHT, TOO LOW AND TOO LOUD


That’s how I could sum up yet another summer, another year.  We hear that the FAA’s explanation this year is as follows:  construction on runways at JFK forces the FAA to run LGA and JFK flights in a way that maximizes noise for the maximum number of people living in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Nassau. 

But why is this year different from all other years?  In all other years, the same flight pattern prevailed as this year, with variable summertime winds allowing the most efficient movement of the greatest number of airplanes into and out of JFK airport.  The construction the FAA blames makes no difference in running the flight patterns they want to run, to maximize “throughput.” 

The FAA says all that allegedly construction-generated aviation noise will magically disappear in northeast Queens in November when construction ends.  But wait, you may ask, isn’t that when it always disappears every year in northeast Queens?  The answer is yes.  There is never any noise on that route from Thanksgiving until March. 

It doesn’t add up.  It never does.  The elected officials to whom the FAA gave that explanation might wonder by now if they should be asking different questions.
If our NY Roundtable employed paid professional staff to advise them, as other Roundtables do, then the people who are allowed to talk to the FAA would have the technical information they need to ask the right questions. 

In the meantime, the noise never disappears in Woodside, Flushing, Maspeth and Jackson Heights (a representative sampling, sorry if I left out your neighborhood).

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NEW FAA REGION 2 ANTI-COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT POLICY



A few weeks ago I heard from a colleague in Nassau.  He asked for information from his usual FAA contact, he said, and was told that a new policy is in effect:  the FAA will no longer communicate directly with community groups. If we want information from the FAA, we must funnel everything through Barbara Brown and Warren Schreiber, co-chairs of the Roundtable, and give them 30 days’ advance notice.  Then Barbara/Warren will talk to Steven Jones, and only Steven Jones, at the FAA.

Mr. Jones, it appears, is our new regional Community Engagement Officer.  Here is a link to a position description for his new job.  As you’ll see, the job of the Community Engagement Officer is NOT to engage with the community.  It is to formulate FAA “community outreach”  plans.  That means having science fairs instead of public hearings, and generally pretending that there’s been communication with the public so the FAA can check another box on the list. 

At the ANE Symposium in March, community and roundtable representatives from around the country specifically told the FAA that we do not want the roundtables used as a way to avoid communicating directly with community advocacy groups.  An FAA official told us we had been “heard.”  If the news about this policy is true, then evidently we were heard by the FAA and our request was rejected. 

There’s been no notice to the public about this new federal agency policy.  I looked in the Federal Register.  I haven’t seen an announcement in writing.  But If it turns out that this rumored anti-community engagement policy is for real, then of course we will comply.  In that case, I will send you Barbara’s and Warren’s email addresses so you can contact them directly and ask them all your FAA-related aviation questions.

Before his confirmation hearings, new FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said this about developing NextGen plans:  “I have found that the only way to get things done is to foster an inclusive, collaborative environment that welcomes diverse points of view and provides transparency.”   The FAA is not walking the boss’ talk with the new Community Engagement Officer and their anti-community engagement policies.  It’s not inclusive, it’s not collaborate and it surely does not welcome diverse points of view of provide transparency.

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IS IT AN OMBUDS OR A COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER?


In last year’s FAA Reauthorization Act, Congress directed the FAA to hire an ombuds for each FAA region no later than October 5, 2019.  It was the clear intent of Congress that the ombuds will communicate with all stakeholders, including community advocacy groups. 

The regional ombuds was one of the most important wins for us in the Reauthorization Act.  We are supposed to be getting a dispute resolution professional (not an  FAA technician) whose primary job is dispute resolution, not pushing the FAA party line.

Questions have arisen about whether the Community Engagement Officer is the regional ombuds.  From the job description of the Community Engagement Officer, it is clear that Mr. Jones is not doing the same job as a professional, neutral ombuds.  The job specs describe a traditional FAA community outreach job, not a dispute resolution job.  The job specs for the C.E. Officer don’t require the same kind of professional experience as an ombuds and do not resemble a real ombuds’ job duties.in any way.

Here is a link to a discussion about the role of the ombuds in federal agencies by the ACUS organization, which is well-respected throughout the country.  After you read this excellent description of how ombuds works at federal agencies, take another look at the position description above for C.E. Officer.  The difference will be clear to you.  Among other things, the C.E. Officer has been narrowly focused by the FAA job description on noise complaints and working with everyone except community organizations.  That’s not the job description that was envisioned by the members of Congress.

Since November of last year, I have continually asked 11 questions about how the FAA plans to hire, assign and manage the regional ombuds, as well as what their job duties will be and who they will be allowed to work with at the agency.  No answers. 

There are very clear, express guidelines for the performance and job specs of an ombuds.  The C.E. Officer position doesn’t meet them.  Yet some roundtable officers and facilitators in other parts of the country are telling community leaders that the C.E. Officer is the regional ombuds.  We need clarification on that ASAP. 

For decades, each time Congress has ordered the agency to provide ombuds services, the FAA has changed the job description to avoid real community engagement and dispute resolution.  They’ve always gotten away with it, but not this time.  If it turns out they double-crossed us, we will be on it. 

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QUIET SKIES CAUCUS REQUESTS MEETING WITH FAA ADMINISTRATOR



A few weeks ago, Steve Dickson, formerly of Delta Airlines, was confirmed as the new FAA Administrator. Click here for a link to an article about Mr. Dickson’s Senate confirmation..  The leaders of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus sent a letter to Mr. Dickson recently.  Co-Chairs Rep. Lynch and Delegate Norton, as well as Vice-Chairs Reps. Suozzi and Quigley, invited Mr. Dickson to discuss urgent issues of aviation noise.  I excerpted the letter, which follows:

“[N]oise from airplanes and helicopters passing overhead is more than a mere annoyance, it can dramatically impact the standard of living and even the health of residents frequently and repeatedly exposed … It is important to the well-being of our constituents that substantive progress is made in the short, medium, and long terms to reduce and ultimately eliminate airplane and helicopter noise impacts on communities across the country

We are concerned about a number of actions that FAA has taken, or not taken, in recent months. In 2015, FAA began a study to reevaluate the current 65 DNL threshold for determining eligibility for residents impacted by airport noise to qualify for noise abatement assistance- this study predates and is different from a study authorized in the 2018 law that reauthorized the FAA. FAA had reported in May of 2018 that the study was nearly final but to this date has still not been released. In August of 2018, the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Quiet Skies Caucus wrote to Acting Administrator Elwell requesting an update on the status of the study, which was then already four months delayed. The study is now nearly 15 months delayed and FAA has still not given any indication about a reason for the delay or when it might be released.

We respectfully but urgently request a detailed update on the status of this study, including a date of expected release in the near future. … [I]t is necessary for the FAA Administrator, accompanied by other agency personnel with a detailed knowledge of the issues at hand, to sit with our caucus and discuss these issues of serious concern to our constituents.


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QQS MEMBER ACTION ITEM:  COMMENT ON SST NOISE RULES BY 8/27


I reported to you in May about industry plans to revive supersonic transport in the U.S.  I quoted an email from Dan Rutherford, who focuses on supersonic transport for the environmental group ICCT.  Dan wrote about Boom Supersonic and their manifesto, called “Make America Boom Again.”  You can click this link to read it.

Eli Dourado, of Boom Inc., testified in Congress recently.  You can see his testimony at this link.

Mr. Dourado’s prepared remarks start at the 30 minute mark.  He talks at some length about how much new demand would be induced by SSTs. ICCT’s analysis concurs and estimates that, if Boom hits its sales targets, around 130 new SST flights could land in JFK every day.

In section 181 of the FAA Reauthorization Act, Congress has given direction to the FAA on developing noise regulations for supersonic transport.  Now, the FAA is asking for public comments on its plan to “streamline” rule-making to grease the skids for SST operation on behalf of the agency’s true customers — the airlines, not you and me.   They call it modernizing the rules.

This is the official FAA explanation:  ” Current regulations prohibit overland supersonic civil flights in the United States, but include a procedure to request authorization for these flights for the purposes of test and development of new aircraft. The criteria for such authorizations were developed in the 1970s and placed in an appendix to the operating regulations. With renewed interest in supersonic aircraft development, the FAA is proposing to modernize the procedure for requesting these special flight authorizations. “

Here is the website where you can comment on the proposed SST rulemaking.  Take a look at what other people have written.  Think about what you’ve read in this Newsletter just today.  Think about our experiences with this agency and the airlines over the years.  Remember that we’re still waiting for the FAA’s noise studies, due in 2017, that should be used in SST rule-making but have been withheld from the taxpayers who paid for them.  Ask yourself if you trust these people to protect you, your kids and our environment — and then please write what you think in a comment on the website.  You can use your name or post anonymously..  

We received a thoughtful letter commenting on SSTs courtesy of our friends in Palo Alto.  It’s from the Aircraft Owners and PIlots Association.  I want to highlight one paragraph of their letter, with which we agree most sincerely:

 AOPA supports the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process as we believe it is important for the public to have the ability to comment on proposed changes which could impact the environment in which we fly. The environmental process ensures that the adverse impacts of proposals are documented and communicated to the authorities who are making the decisions. It is vital that general aviation pilots, the flying public, and our neighbors can weigh in on applications and have their voices heard.

Click here for a link to the letter from the AOPA.

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CITIES SUSPEND PARTICIPATION IN SEA-TAC ROUNDTABLE


We heard last week from our friends at Quiet Skies of Puget Sound:

“Cities are suspending their participation with the Port of Seattle in the Sea-Tac Airport  Round Table (START). The reason? Many, actually, but the “straw” was the Port’s action to move forward with airport expansion plans without waiting for the completion of the environmental impact statements FOR THOSE VERY EXPANSION PLANS.  Worse, the Port nearly hid this conduct by allocating the funding to begin the expansion spending in a Kirkland meeting with the funding on the consent agenda.

The entire premise of START was to have the Port collaborate with cities, airlines, and the FAA on decisions relating to aviation expansion, noise, emissions, health and the environment. This ill-advised decision should never have “gotten out of committee.” The problem? The Port didn’t tell the committee.

The second problem. The Port has apologized, but has failed to provide the key to an authentic apology – the atonement. The Port hasn’t offered to undo the damage – it’s rolling forward anyway.

The third problem – the Port seems to be using START as a way to check a box, to manufacture engagement evidence, but the engagement by design achieves no results. The Briefing Project covered this “failure to engage” in Episode 17 “The Myth of Engagement,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0GeS_d1ag8. Multiple START committee meetings have occurred during which the Port did not disclose it was going to move forward with the SAMP. Are these meetings examples of real, or fake, engagement?”

Is it any wonder that those of us who deal with these agencies don’t trust them?  Here in New York, we’re still waiting to find out what’s happened to the Part 150 noise mitigation studies that seem to have vanished. 

As a colleague in California said upon hearing this news, “the General Accounting Office will have a field day with all this when they do their audit.” 

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LETTERS TO THE U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE



I reported recently that the General Accounting Office plans to do an audit of the FAA at the request of Congress.  I asked everyone to send emails with their testimony about our aviation noise and pollution issues for the General Accounting Office.  I have gotten lots so far, from New York and from other cities, too.  

I am keeping this project open for the next few months, until the GAO asks for our testimony.  I have already spoken to the audit project manager at the GAO and will be on the list to give testimony on our behalf, including all your emails.

If you haven’t sent an email, it’s not too late.  I will start sorting them out after Labor Day.  Please encourage your friends and neighbors to send them. Feel free to distribute to civic associations and other affected groups.   If you’re reading this in another city, please join in, too.

Thanks to all who sent them so far.  I haven’t had time to acknowledge each of them personally, but they’re great!

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TWO NEW QUEENS NOISE MONITOR LOCATIONS



The owners of the noise monitor locations in Bayside and East Flushing have moved or are moving.  The Port Authority was having trouble finding new locations.  We asked QQS members and civic association members for help and you rose to the occasion. 

The new East Flushing noise monitor is now online and we are expecting the new Bayside location to follow suit shortly.  Each is newly located not far from the original noise monitors.

Great job, well done Queens community!  This shows everyone that we are here and that we care about airplane noise.  QQS never publicizes the locations or names of the noise monitor hosts but we want to thank you all, past and present, for doing a public service by lending part of your property to our cause.

Thanks also to Adeel Yousuf and Xiaobo Liu of the Port Authority for their work and cooperation on the noise monitors.

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AIRPLANE NOISE AND REAL ESTATE VALUES IN QUEENS



Years ago, some people in our community wanted to sue the FAA for eminent domain.  The argument was that excessive aviation noise and pollution decreased the value of our homes and constituted a taking under the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  I thought at the time that there was not enough data and that the law of eminent domain was changing too rapidly to hang our hats on that argument. 

In June, an article was published by Localize and picked up in other outlets.  Click here for a link to the article.  It’s the first time recently I’ve seen someone correlate aviation noise and real estate values in Queens. 

If the Port Authority’s Part 150 studies ever come to light, the picture in the article might look even worse.  What you’ll see in the Part 150 studies is a redrawn DNL map of Queens.  It will show that the noise has increased substantially, and is now distributed farther and wider, away from the narrow corridors that used to exist only around the airports.  It may be time to focus on getting independent data to correlate aviation noise with real estate values for publication and, perhaps, other uses. 

I will just mention here, too, that I have continually asked for the results of the Part 150 studies.  There have been no meetings of the study Technical Advisory Committee since June 2018, and no news about the studies since then either.  

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QQS PLANNING MEETING


We will hold a QQS planning meeting — in real time, in person — in the not-too-distant future for those who want to volunteer.  If you have time to work for our organization, please send me an email.  I will let you know when and where the meeting will take place.

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A NEW PETITION



One of our QQS members has suffered greatly this summer from the noise.  She wrote a petition and posted it to MoveOn.org.  Please sign if you like.  Click here to link to the petition.

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You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to write one of these QQS Newsletters.  This one took 2.5 days over two weekends.  Just when I thought it was time to hit “send,” something else popped up and I had to keep adding and subtracting items.  There’s always a lot going on.

Although sometimes it looks as though we are having a temporary setback, our general motion has always been forward.  People who have been around this industry for a long time are really surprised by how much we’ve accomplished.   We will just keep going until we win. 

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