There’s evidence this month that our voices are being heard. Read on…
DOT INSPECTOR GENERAL’S REPORT ON NEXTGEN NAVIGATION
The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation issued a report last month about how and whether the FAA is meeting expectations with its NextGen Performance-Based Navigation program. NextGen is the satellite-based navigation system that makes “highways in the sky.” It has created unendurable noise for many of us as far as 40 miles from JFK and LGA airports since 2012. Click here for a link to the full report.
The IG found missed benchmarks and performance targets, as well as low returns on investment. Here is a summary of the study conclusions, from the report:
“FAA has made progress in implementing its Metroplex program but has experienced difficulties meeting timelines and has yet to fully resolve key obstacles. While FAA has completed 7 of 12 Metroplex locations, the Agency does not expect to complete all remaining locations until 2021, 4 years later than originally planned. Delays have occurred largely due to increased community concerns about aircraft noise. In addition, other previously identified PBN obstacles remain, including a lack of automated decision support tools for controllers, unclear terminology used by pilots and controllers for referring to flight paths, and the lengthy procedure amendment process. Further, Metroplex benefits to airspace users have fallen well short of predictions—in post‐implementation reports, FAA estimated annual benefits of $31.1 million, which is $30.5 million (49.5 percent) less than the minimum amount initially expected when FAA first planned each Metroplex site. Finally, FAA’s methods for estimating benefits overly rely on judgment and are not well documented, limiting the ability to readily test the estimates’ robustness and replicate results.” [Italics added.]
The FAA responded that unanticipated community objections to increased noise have lengthened their timelines. For all of you who thought we weren’t accomplishing anything, this should be a revelation: our protests, campaigns and work with our elected officials have had a big impact on the timeline and bottom line of the NextGen roll out. Our objections to the assault on our health and quality of life are costing the airlines money. Tell your friends and neighbors!
It’s been 7 years here in Queens. The FAA and the industry have stubbornly insisted on going down the same old failed road, even though they are losing money and wasting time. We try to communicate with them but they don’t want to hear us. The FAA, the industry, the NextGen Advisory Committee must wake up now and include real community involvement in their planning strategies.
Take a look at the report, as well as the exhibits and appendices, especially the FAA’s response to the report. It’s all good reading and short enough not to put you to sleep.
Queens Quiet Skies believes the time has come for a Congressional investigation into the failures of the NextGen program and the unwillingness of the FAA to deal adequately with community concerns about our health and safety. As we’ve said many times, NextGen is just a tool. Other countries have used it more effectively while including communities in planning and noise reduction programs. It’s time to find out why that hasn’t happened here.
The DOT Inspector General report is not the audit by the General Accounting Office that we’ve mentioned before. That investigation has not yet begun. We’ll tell you more about that one as it gets closer.
FAA ANTI-COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT POLICY (PART TWO)
A month ago, I told you about the FAA’s rumored new anti-community engagement policy. It turns out the rumor was correct. Here’s a statement of the policy from a very reliable source:
[T]he process for airspace/aviation noise issues is to go through the New York Community Aviation Roundtable (NYCAR) so that all communities have a seat at the table for any discussion. Those requests are channeled through the NYCAR Chair (Ms. Barbara Brown) and Vice Chair (Mr. Warren Schreiber). Barbara is also the JFK subcommittee chair and Warren is the LaGuardia subcommittee chair.The 30-day request relates to FAA’s ability to provide technical expertise and support to NYCAR meetings (and roundtables generally). We have experienced requests for information and/or requests for presentations at meetings that have come to FAA with inadequate time to prepare, particularly when we need to fly in experts from other locations such as Atlanta or DC. We have set the 30-day threshold in advance of a NYCAR or subcommittee meeting so that FAA be fully prepared to support their requests (e.g. briefings on procedures at JFK, TNNIS climb, NextGen, environmental research, etc). Stakeholders are welcome to make requests at any time and we’ll try to accommodate, however if it’s within 30-days of a meeting we may not be able to develop a presentation and coordinate staff travel until the next meeting.”
Do you think this has anything to do with community involvement in NextGen planning and implementation? Me neither. Once again, the FAA either completely misunderstood what it was directed to do by Congress or chose not to do it. Congress told the FAA to involve all stakeholders in decision-making. It did not define community groups, nor did it tell the FAA to restrict its “engagement” to roundtables. Not all communities have a seat at the table at the NY Roundtable, nor are all communities equal on the NY Roundtable. The FAA was told to work with the public. The new policy demonstrates the FAA’s failure and unwillingness to work with all aviation stakeholders.
It seems the FAA didn’t give their teammates and partners at the Roundtable a heads-up on this, either. Warren Schreiber told me he had not agreed to the policy in advance and would not agree to it. Thanks, Warren. We appreciate your leadership on this.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required the FAA to critique its own community involvement practices and, by June 5th, to submit a plan and report to Congress. The agency did not meet the deadline, although it told a reporter for Airport Noise Report that it had submitted the report on time Things must be pretty confusing at FAA headquarters if they don’t know whether they’ve complied with a Congressional mandate.
We’re waiting to see that report now. It’s more than 3 months overdue. In the meantime, Region 2 should come up with a better “community engagement” policy that’s less restrictive and insulting to our community.
WE WUZ ROBBED!
Congress gave the FAA a gift in the Reauthorization Act. The agency didn’t recognize it and wasted an opportunity. This is the directive from Congress:
SEC. 180. REGIONAL OMBUDSMEN.
(a) In General.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, with respect to each region of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Regional Administrator for that region shall designate an individual to be the Regional Ombudsman for the region.
(b) Requirements.—Each Regional Ombudsman shall—
(1) serve as a regional liaison with the public, including community groups, on issues regarding aircraft noise, pollution, and safety;
(2) make recommendations to the Administrator for the region to address concerns raised by the public and improve the consideration of public comments in decision-making processes; and
(3) be consulted on proposed changes in aircraft operations affecting the region, including arrival and departure routes, in order to minimize environmental impacts, including noise.
Instead of hiring professional ombuds for the regions, the FAA hired agency cheerleaders, using a position description appropriate for Noise Officers rather than dispute resolution professionals. The FAA narrowed the job of regional ombuds to dealing only with noise complaints and defined community groups as roundtables only.
Decision-makers at federal government agencies know what an ombuds does and how the position works. But each time Congress has provided for FAA ombudsmen in the past, the agency has managed to evade that requirement. Now it’s tried to do that once again.
Ironically, using professional ombudsmen would have worked for the benefit of the FAA and the airlines. Community opposition to NextGen plans is costing the industry money and holding back progress on their plans. Requiring professional ombuds was meant to facilitate communication and resolve disputes among the stakeholders. Instead, it’s become another lost opportunity caused by the myopic intransigence of this agency.
Congress told the FAA last year in the Reauthorization Act to hold public hearings within 30 days on the North Shore helicopter route. The agency didn’t do it, and there were no consequences. They are late with their community involvement plan. They ignored the direction of Congress by not hiring professional ombudsmen. We have no expectation that the FAA intends ever to comply with the statute. The FAA routinely ignores Congressional deadlines, with impunity.
For that reason, too, we urge Congress to hold hearings to investigate the refusal of the FAA to obey the instructions it gets from our representatives.
WE WUZ ROBBED!: NASSAU COUNTY EDITION
In May, FAA regional staff met with Rep. Tom Suozzi, Rep. Kathleen Rice and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to discuss noise mitigation possibilities for aircraft operating at JFK Airport. Since we have 2 major airports in NYC in the space where one might operate comfortably, both JFK and LGA operations affect all of us.
On June 13th, the FAA made a specific, multi-point agreement with the Nassau County legislators to adjust altitudes for noise mitigation. The public was informed at a press conference and the new procedures were supposed to go into effect on June 24th.
However, on June 18th, the FAA regional office surprised everyone by announcing that the deal was on hold. The agency said the new regulations “require additional internal evaluation” and that “the FAA will coordinate with stakeholders before it makes any decision to implement them.” We think those are pretty interesting reasons to suddenly back out of a deal. What happened? We can only guess. You can, too.
The deal is still off and the Nassau legislators have called on Steve Dickson, the new FAA Administrator, to explain why. Click here to read Rep. Suozzi’s press release.
ICE IN WINTER
This section is about the number of departures from runway 13 at LGA, which primarily affects northeast Queens. There’s been an excessive amount of noise from these departures in the past few months. The FAA says that’s due to flight configuration changes caused by runway construction at JFK. The agency says all that will change on November 15th, when construction ends.
In the last edition of QQS News, I discussed why we don’t think much will change when the runway construction ends in November. The noise on the TNNIS route will abate in November, as it does every year, because that’s when winds change to northwest. The number of departures from LGA runway 13 drops to very low levels until the winds change back around March or April and the number of runway 13 departures picks up again.
Now we hear that the FAA regional director has promised to return the number of departures on runway 13 to “pre construction levels.” We’ve heard that means back to 2018 levels.
The number of departures on LGA runway 13 has increased exponentially and continuously each year, with 2018 being the worst year so far. A few years ago, we had 50,000 departures on runway 13. In 2018, we had almost 100,000 departures on that runway. Unless capacity at LaGuardia is increased, you can’t run many more runway 13 departures than the 2018 numbers. So this promise by the FAA would be to maintain runway 13 departures at the record high we experienced in 2018.
They give us ice in winter. WooHoo!
‘WORSE THAN ANYONE EXPECTED’
The day I realized that aviation noise and pollution are public health problems, not annoyance problems, was in 2015. I was listening to Prof. Scott Fruin of USC explain his study of jet fuel particulates around LAX. Prof. Fruin found that the concentration of ultrafine particles had increased tremendously for 20 miles around the airport. People were breathing in those particles, which caused health problems especially for the elderly, for children and developing fetuses.
Now new research from the International Council on Clean Transportation finds that emissions from global air travel may be increasing more than 1.5 times as fast as the most recent U.N. estimate. This is due to increased demand, despite airline attempts to regulate emissions and particulates. A New York Times article this week explained the growing emissions problem ahead of a meeting of aviation regulators. An expert was quoted as saying, “this is worse than anyone expected.” This is a link to the article.
And what about our kids? Who is studying the effect of increased aviation noise on our children? Certainly not the FAA, which is not in the business of public health and should not be. A colleague from Palo Alto passed along this page from the EPA website. Click here to open the webpage. It talks about the EPA’s policy of assessing environmental risk to children separately from the risk to adults.
Have we been making those separate assessments for children when we evaluate the effects of aviation noise? Probably not, because control over environmental noise issues was taken away from the EPA and given to the FAA in the early 1980’s. The FAA is not the appropriate agency to be doing this kind of public health work. That’s why Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Meng have introduced the Quiet Communities Act, which would re-fund the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control.
I have mentioned the Quiet Communities Act many times and will continue to mention it until it is passed. Our children and our elderly, our environment, our fellow passengers on Planet Earth are the reasons why.
PART 150 STUDY TECHNICAL ADVISORY MEETING
The Port Authority and FAA have been conducting Part 150 noise mitigation studies for years. The last meeting of the LGA Technical Advisory Committee was in June 2018. Since then, there’s been only radio silence.
Now the Port Authority has announced the next meeting of the LGA Part 150 TAC, at which we will learn which noise abatement proposals are being considered. Here is the meeting notice:
DATE: Thursday, October 17, 2019
TIME: 1:00PM – 4:00PM
LOCATION: LaGuardia Airport, Hangar 7 Center, 3rd Floor
Flushing, NY 11371
The presentations and summary notes from the previous TAC meetings can be found on the project website. Click here to go to the project website.
Note: Parking is available at Parking Lot 6 (directly across from Hangar 7). Please bring your parking ticket into the meeting to receive a parking voucher for use when exiting the parking lot.
Seating at the TAC meeting is limited. However, the meeting will be open to the public. In order to promote balanced and constructive interaction, members of the public will be asked to refrain from commenting during the meeting. A brief public comment period will be held at the end of the meeting.
There’s so much going on that I haven’t included all the news. There will always be more. What’s most important is that what we have done, and are continuing to do, is making an impact that can be felt from here to Washington and in boardrooms all around the country. It’s happening, so let’s keep moving forward together.