It is likely that the public may be somewhat disappointed with Congress’ latest effort to ameliorate the impacts of airport noise on underlying populations. On November 18, 2021, Adam Smith, Member of the House of Representatives from Washington State, introduced the Aviation Noise and Emissions Act, H.R. 6050, a Bill intended to “develop pilot grant programs through the Environmental Protection Agency to research and collect data on aircraft and airport noise and emissions and to use such information and data to develop a mitigation strategy, and for other purposes.” H.R. 6050, p. 1. At its foundation, the Bill calls for a “3-year pilot grant program with eligible entities to measure noise and emissions, including greenhouse gases, particulate matter, ultrafine particles, and other toxic pollutants, in communities near airports or air flight pathways using sophisticated methods and technology that allow tracing of noise and emissions to specific sources . . .,” H.R. 6050, paragraph 2.a., including identifying the primary recipients of such noise such as specific neighborhoods, structures, or impacted areas.
The legislation, while obviously well intentioned, hits far from the mark. First, the technology to which it refers, for the purpose of differentiating the sources of impacts, already exists. For example, the City of Los Angeles has used similar, if not identical, technology to differentiate sources of the particulate emissions that characterize the air around Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”), discovering that the bulk originated from the trucks carrying cargo from the Port of Los Angeles, and not from the airport itself.
A second issue is the legislation’s emphasis on improving information to potentially impacted communities. The improvement of collaboration with affected communities is devoutly to be wished, but could be accomplished by adherence to the principals of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (“NEPA”). That collaboration is affirmatively required by NEPA, but, more often than not, as in this case, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) takes the position that the number of people affected by loud aircraft has declined significantly in recent decades, principally due to new aircraft technology and local land use restrictions on development around airports.
In taking that position, FAA entirely ignores the impact of the recently implemented NextGen project, that directs aircraft to more consolidated flight paths, thus changing those flight paths and lowering them over areas never previously overflown. Finally, FAA persists in using the Day-Night Sound Level (“DNL”) metric to calculate the level of aircraft noise to support its position. DNL is a 24 hour average of aircraft noise and, thus, does not fully represent the noise impacts visited upon homes and businesses by each single event operation.
In summary, the conversation and level of mitigation that H.R. 6050 seeks to facilitate are left largely unaddressed by this legislation. The Congress needs to do more to address the specific issues of: (1) NextGen’s implementation, where consideration was given largely to airline fuel savings; and (2) the accurate calculation of such noise, using single event metrics as well as cumulative metrics, before it can take credit for remediating those palpable impacts.