On December 4, 2013, Representative Joseph Crowley of a district in the Bronx and Queens, New York, heavily impacted by operations at LaGuardia Airport, introduced the “Quiet Skies Act” (H.R. 3650). Supported by a variety of Congresspersons from other similarly impacted districts, the Act requires passenger airlines to replace or retrofit 25% of their fleets every five years until 2035 to meet a “Stage 4” standard, approximately 10 decibels lower than currently approved “Stage 3” engines.
The conversion mandated by the Act might seem to result in significant relief to populations impacted by frequent overflights of Stage 3 aircraft. There are, however, at least two conditions significantly vitiating the Act’s impacts.
First, new aircraft type designs are already required to meet Stage 4 standards in or after 2006. 70 Fed.Reg. 38742. Therefore, the legislation duplicates, to some extent, existing mandates. Second, and perhaps dispositive, is the expected opposition from the legislation’s target, commercial airlines. The Act requires conversion not merely of new engines, but also of existing aircraft in the fleet. That, of course, might also require replacement of currently operational and relatively modern aircraft at substantial, even prohibitive expense. Replacement of the existing fleet is not required by the current rule. 70 Fed.Reg. 38742. Given the substantial weight wielded by the airline community, it is more than merely likely that the Silent Skies Act will either never reach the floor of the Congress; or will be watered down to a point at which it merely reflects the current rule.
In summary, the responsiveness of the Congresspersons involved is to be commended. Their efforts would be better spent, however, at a Statement of Congressional Intent directed at influencing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) interpretation and application of the regulations implementing the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, 49 U.S.C. 47521, et seq., which preempts to the federal government all airport noise and access restrictions at local airports, and which is the primary constraint on new noise restrictions.