Stirring from their usual slumber, in the face of increasing community dissatisfaction with respect to noise and emissions from aircraft overflight, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and United States Congress each took some action in recent months. First, FAA awarded more than $19 million to various universities and other organizations through the “ASCENT” program, a cooperative aviation research organization founded in 2014 (but apparently only lightly funded until now).
The primary purpose of the grants was to allow the universities to study ways to reduce aviation noise. Many of those awards were for noise resulting from episodic impacts of: (1) uncrewed aircraft; (2) supersonic aircraft; and (3) advanced air mobility or AIM. However, giving some thought to more “mundane” causes, FAA gave nearly $2 million to Boston University to study the relationship between aircraft noise, sleep, mental health, and cardiovascular health. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania received slightly over $1 million to study the way in which noise from aircraft affects sleep. All of these latter grants go to the fundament of impacted communities’ concerns.
The wheels of the legislative process grind more slowly, however. On or about February 14, 2023, two pieces of legislation were introduced in the House of Representatives by representatives of entities in the States of Washington and New York, both of which are heavily impacted by operations from “large hub commercial” airports. The first two pieces of legislation, H.R. 1047 and 1048, were introduced by Representative Adam Smith of Washington State. H.R. 1047 requires that FAA fund a National Academy of Sciences study of the effect of overflight noise on communities that are not technically within the 65 DNL noise contour. 65 DNL is the current dividing line between significant and insignificant noise. The hypothesis is that communities outside the 65 DNL noise contour still experience significant levels of both single-event and cumulative noise. The second bill, H.R. 1048, is slightly less specific. It requires the development of “pilot programs,” through the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) (a somewhat unusual delegation of authority), to research and collect data on aircraft and airport noise and emissions, and use such data to develop mitigation strategies. The last legislation, H.R. 7769, is of a somewhat earlier vintage (introduced in May 2022). It would require the development of a “helicopter usage management plan for certain airspace” applicable to “nonessential rotorcraft,” i.e., those not used for emergency and medical evacuations. The area covered is limited to New York City (see H.R. 7769, § 2.g.), however.
Given the funding provided by FAA, and the programs proposed by the pending legislation, it is conceivable that some progress may be made in the recognition of aircraft noise impacts beyond the 24-hour average noise metrics, DNL and CNEL, currently endorsed by Congress and FAA as the measures of noise impact. It will be a long haul, so be prepared to stay tuned.