September 22, 2018 Newsletter

THE FAA REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2018

Dear neighbors —

This morning, the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee released a draft proposal for the new FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 302).  Here is the link to the proposed legislation:

We’ve talked about the FAA Reauthorization Act for several years now.  It contains directions from Congress to the FAA on means, methods and goals for FAA operations during the life of the legislation.  The last Act, passed in 2012, was the spark for our community advocacy movement because it contained provisions that increased aviation noise and pollution for our communities.  The term of the new legislation would be 5 years.

The proposed FAA Reauthorization Act clearly shows the impact we have had in Washington since 2012.  It is by no means perfect,but the provisions that were included are our waypoints down the road toward our eventual goals.

Before I tell you about the legislation, I want to explain how Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Reps. Grace Meng and Tom Suozzi, helped to bring this legislation into being.

Reps.Grace Meng and Tom Suozzi worked for us on the original House version earlier this year.   Many amendments written by noise advocacy groups around the country became amendments to the House bill.  After that bill passed the House, staffers from U.S. Senators on both sides worked with staffers from House representatives to reconcile differing versions of the bill.  One of their tasks, from our perspective, was to make sure that as many community amendments as possible survived into the Senate bill.  

Throughout the Senate consideration of the FAA Reauthorization bill, I have constantly been in contact with the staff of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.  They asked for Queens Quiet Skies’ ideas on the reauthorization from the beginning.  We discussed what was possible, what might or might not work, what was most important to QQS members.  They checked back with me throughout the process.  They told me when a proposal was realistic and when it was not likely to happen.  Our representatives in Congress have been active on our behalf throughout and have tried within the parameters of reality to get us what we asked for.

Now we see the proposed bill as it just came out of the reconciliation process.  It is surprisingly good for us. 

Here’s a brief preliminary rundown on the provisions that are important to us.  This is the result of just a first read-through of the legislation and a discussion with our comrade Jennifer Landesmann from Sky Posse Palo Alto.

COMMUNITY PROVISIONS

By numbered provisions, this is how it shapes up:

171.  Provides funding for airport energy efficiency projects.

172.  Stage 2 aircraft pilot program.   We have advocated for elimination of noisy Stage 2 aircraft  This bill provides for limited “non-revenue” use at smaller airports.  It allows certain airlines to continue to use Stage 2 aircraft on limited runs and to refuel them when necessary inside the United States.

173.  Investigating alternative noise metrics.  This is a proposal made by QQS and many other noise advocacy groups.  The 65 DNL noise criterion is a whitewash of noise that doesn’t measure noise on the ground as we experience it.  We have asked the FAA to develop new ways to measure the new kind of aviation noise created by performance-based navigation routes.  Now Congress has told the FAA to study new methods and report a year after the bill is enacted.  

174.  Updating airport exposure maps.  Congress says if there is an expectation that there will be a change in noise in an area around an airport, the airport operator has to submit to the FAA an updated noise exposure map.  

175.  Addressing community noise concerns.  We asked for dispersal headings of aircraft on NextGen flight routes.  That would mean less concentrated noise overhead because aircraft would not take off on the same precision flight navigation routes over and over again.  The legislation proposes that new or amended routes for aircraft between the ground and 6000 feet in altitude over “noise-sensitive areas” be considered for dispersal headings.  The catch is that the airport operator (in our case, the Port Authority) will have to request consideration of dispersal headings.  We can work with that.  And, as usual, the FAA will decide based on “safety and efficiency.”   

176.  Community involvement.  I smiled when I saw the words “community involvement” because it didn’t say “community engagement,” an old favorite of the FAA.   Involving communities is different from engaging communities, and I was heartened to see that distinction recognized here.   Within 6 months, the FAA will have to review itself and its own policies on community involvement in NextGen planning (in metroplexes of its own choosing).  One assumes that the agency will recommend to itself ways to improve its interaction with communities.  

177.  Lead emissions.  The FAA will study lead emissions from aircraft fuel and recommend how to reduce ambient lead concentrations.

178.  Study of Terminal Sequencing and Spacing.  The TSAS program was developed by NASA to deal with increased air traffic. There was concern among community groups that using the program would lead to further concentration of noise in areas around airports.  Here is a link to NASA’s description of their program:

Congress has directed the FAA to study the effects of TSAS before implementing it.

179,  Airport noise mitigation study.  The FAA is directed to conduct a study of aircraft speed of arriving and departing aircraft to determine whether a change in airspeed will have an effect on noise in areas close to airports  This is the result of an idea generated by the MIT study in Boston.

180.  Regional ombuds.  The FAA will designate a community ombuds in each region to work with community groups and other community stakeholders.  The job of the ombuds is clearly spelled out in this legislation.  It is a far cry from legislation 20 years ago that created a part-time FAA ombuds who was responsible for opening letters a few hours a week. We can thank Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand for this one.  The ombuds idea is now ours to run with, and make of it what we can.  Queens Quiet Skies intends to be proactive in communicating with the FAA Region 2 ombuds.

181.  This lengthy provision deals with the regulation of supersonic civil aircraft, a subject that is coming up fast for us.  We are on it.  Congress appears to be on it, too.  Some of the new supersonic air carriers have said they can evade noise regulations.  It will be harder for them to do that under this provision of the Reauthorization Act.  But we will be vigilant about Boom, Inc. and its counterparts.

182.  NY North Shore helicopter route  This one is for us and our neighbors in Nassau and Suffolk.  The FAA will ensure public comment and review of the North Shore Helicopter Route.  Congress also proposes a mandatory altitude of 2500 feet on the route and provides for the possibility of other measures to alleviate helicopter noise in our area.

186.  Stage 3 aircraft study.  The FAA will conduct a study of the possible phaseout of noisier Stage 3 aircraft.  This has been an ask from almost all the community noise advocacy groups.  

187.  Study aircraft noise exposure.  The FAA is directed to study the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around the airports.  This is also an opportunity to revise the old Part 150 noise study protocols.

188,  Study of day-night level noise measurement.  The DNL is a fictitious measure of noise, taking an average decibel level weighted for day and night operations in a 365-day period.  It’s easy to manipulate.  It bears no relationship to our experience of noise on the ground, but the FAA has used it for decades.  Now Congress has told the FAA to take a look at other ways to measure noise “to address community noise concerns.”  That includes actual noise sampling.  Imagine  that — actually measuring noise.  It’s a concept and now it might one day be the law.

189.  Study of potential health and economic impacts of overflight noise..  Take a look at this beautiful, long direction from Congress to the FAA to take seriously our concerns about our health and quality of life.  These concerns were the basis for our public health study with Columbia University.  We need to see nationally whether — as we found here in Queens — the costs to public health outweigh the economic benefits of concentrated overflight noise.  Now we will find out.  

190  Environmental mitigation pilot program.  I remember when Rep. Grace Meng’s staff wrote this provision for the original House bill.  Thanks to our members of Congress, it has survived into the final bill.   The provision contains specific directions on how to conduct environmental studies, who will conduct the studies and what will be in the studies.  There are reasonable time limits so it doesn’t drag on forever. 

507.  Human factors.  This provision says that to prevent wasting any more money on NextGen procedures that fail and will have to be scrapped, the FAA must consider “human factors” in all its planning from now on.  In fact, they have to hire a “human factors specialist” for every project.  That is a tip of the hat to you all, QQS members.  It is recognition by Congress and the aviation industry that NextGen cannot be implemented or operated without considering the impact on humans.  Congrats!

There are other interesting sections in the legislation.  I need to take some time to look through all of it more closely.  There’s probably some I’ve missed.  I might have gotten something wrong.  But this at least is the first highlight tour for our members. 

I was going to send out a newsletter this coming week with news about the FAA Noise Annoyance Survey, supersonic civil aircraft and a new air pollution study.  I will do that as soon as I can, and most likely will have more to say about the FAA Reauthorization.

I hope you will see in this legislation a reflection of how hard we have worked together since 2012 and how far we have come.  We have learned, we have rallied, we have written letters and emails, we have made noise complaints.  We forged good working relationships with many of our elected representatives.  We used data from Freedom of Information requests to expose FAA misrepresentations.  We worked with a major university to conduct a landmark public health study.   All of it is paying off now and will continue to pay off for us until we win protections for ourselves, our children and our environment.

Thanks for being part of it —

Janet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *