FAA Noise Impact Assessment is based on Objective Data, not Subjective Complaints

FAA Noise Impact Assessment
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FAA Noise Impact Assessments

Only Hard Data Matters

A recent study has carefully examined the voices being expressed in response to the FAA’s implementation of NextGen’s new procedures at Washington’s Dulles and National Airports. Eli Dourado and Raymond Russell authored the following  quote found in their article entitled Airport Noise NIMBYism: An Empirical Investigation, while at GMU’s Mercatus Center.

“Airport noise policy must strike a reasonable balance between noise abatement and the economic benefits associated with noisy airplane takeoffs and landings. However, because the majority of noise complaints come from a small number of loud objectors, there is a danger that this balance has been tilted too far in the direction of noise abatement. We hope that increasing awareness of the lopsided distribution of noise complaints can help promote noise standards that strike an appropriate balance and facilitate the advancement of faster and cheaper commercial flight.”

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

FAA Noise Impact AssessmentsTrue to its motto, “bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems,” the authors suggest four possible solutions:

  1. “One option is for airports to acquire residential land below flight.”
  1. “A second approach is to make noise standards more severe, creating mandatory retirement of the existing fleet of airplanes.”
  1. “A third approach is to subsidize and otherwise support the installation of more and better insulation in homes affected by airport noise.”
  1. “Finally, a noise tax could help to efficiently discourage the production of noise without outright banning it, and revenues could be used to fund insulation programs.”

And they conclude:

“It would be a mistake to allow the preferences of a vocal but minuscule minority of citizens, however sympathetic their circumstances, to impede much-needed improvements in aviation. Airport noise standards are already quite strict, and they create real economic and environmental costs associated with lower aircraft fuel efficiency. While our analysis cannot recommend a precise noise standard, we are concerned that a handful of callers—who contact not only airports but also the FAA and congressional offices—have unduly influenced existing standards. Policymakers should be acutely aware of the distribution of calls before taking further action on airport noise.”

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

Before discussing the merits of the authors’ public policy statement that the FAA is making its decisions based on that the counting of complainer “votes” or tallying the letters of Members of Congress, it is important to premise this post with the acknowledgement that the FAA’s NextGen, particularly the RNP routes, have created a concentration of noise over specific points and that there is a need for a new metric for such impacts. In fact, the FAA in May, 2015 announced that it is reassessing the scientific methodology it utilizes to objectively assess noise.

[In fairness to the FAA, it is also important to note that the FAA continues its dialogue with the community to record what problems are perceived by the public and where feasible, address them. The final outcome in the Metroplex will be based on the existing environmental standards, not a noise referendum.]

That research will not obviate the benefits of NextGen, but should provide analysis which will quantify the impact of these new more precise flight patterns.

In all of its environmental reviews, the FAA uses a noise standard, which may be improved but which constitutes a sound basis to decide how to minimize the OVERALL noise impact of a different Air Traffic procedure (high and low altitudes).

The FAA has for many years used its Integrated Noise Model as its primary method to measure noise but in an effort to more accurately determine impacts, in May, 2015 it adopted the Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT).

These computer modeling methodologies evaluate aircraft noise impacts in the vicinity of airports. They are based on the algorithm and framework from the SAE AIR 1845 standard, which used noise-power-distance (NPD) data to estimate noise accounting for specific operation mode, thrust setting, and source-receiver geometry, acoustic directivity, and other environmental factors.

Using these scientific techniques the FAA is able to

  • accurately assess changes in noise impact resulting from new or extended runways or runway configurations,
  • accurately assess changes in noise impact resulting from new traffic demand and fleet mix, and
  • evaluate noise impacts from new operational procedures.

The data input into these assessment tools are based on operation forecasts, fleet and flight track assumptions. The numbers are then run through the algorithms are create decisional tools as shown in this example:

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

The model outputs are then validated by noise measurements taken from precise engineering equipment which are located throughout the test area based on reliable statistical determinations:

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

The FAA typically develops multiple iterations of the alternative Air Traffic procedures and selects the best options based on purely quantitative measurements (noise numbers, safety of flight and efficiency of the ATC). The multivariate equations used may not include the loci of telephone complaints. Part of the reason why the FAA models do not include such subjective or qualitative factors is the science of psychoacoustics which is the study of sound perception. Hearing is not a purely mechanical phenomenon of wave propagation, but is also a sensory and perceptual event. The term “psychoacoustics”…

FAA Noise Impact Assessments

…involves cognitive psychology and the effects that personal expectations, prejudices, and predispositions may have on listeners’ responses. For example, many react more negatively to the sound of a motorcycle than a noise of an equal energy level BECAUSE the person hearing its signature resonance equates subconsciously to danger. The expression that one “hears what one wants (or expects) to hear” is apt here.

The FAA and the world’s CAAs use objective criteria to assess noise experienced around airports. The voices of individuals may be the basis for further examination of the data to see if here is any anomaly, but they do not constitute a determinative “vote.”

Can the FAA’s assessment of the particular noise generated by the new more precise AT routes be challenged? Yes, but until there is a new, more realistic measurement of that impact, only hard data will matter to these decision-makers.


ARTICLE: Report: One Person Called In 84 Percent Of Dulles Noise Complaints
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10 Comments on "FAA Noise Impact Assessment is based on Objective Data, not Subjective Complaints"

  1. I always ask, who was there first, the airport or the settlement.

  2. Living next to the LAX south complex (R/W 24), the departures at 8AM would be very loud and one-after-the-other. The overall noise level would not be that bad as the noise is measured over a day’s worth of ops. But there can be a problem when there is a lengthy period of continuing noise. BUT — THAT COULD BE ANTICIPATED WHEN ONE LIVES AT THAT LOCATION.

  3. Sometimes that does not always tell the whole story. For example, residents around a small general aviation airport may be perfectly content with single engine piston aircraft mostly on weekends, but will object to the airport expanding to accommodate business jets that arrive late at night or in the early morning during the week. Likewise, communities develop over the years based on certain flight patterns, then a new runway goes in or the flight pattern is changed and now planes are directly overhead.

  4. Keep in mind too, annoyance which is what most FAA noise policy is based on (DNL 65 traces back to what % of the population will be highly annoyed) and annoyance by definition is not “objective.” Acoustics – objective. Noise exposure – objective. How humans will react to a specific level of noise exposure based on cumulative or single-event values – NOT objective. Noise complaints can’t be the sole consideration in implementing policy or flight procedures but it should certainly be a source of data for consideration. Complaints can show the community’s perception and/or opinion which in a democracy is important whether we like it or not. Changes in public opinion can signal a change in attitudes or perception of an organization such as the airport itself, which will ultimately affect the airport’s ability to operate and/or expand.

  5. Many aircraft engine manufacturers are spending millions of dollars in research in order to develop quieter aircraft engines. I think there is a great improvement in the amount of noise reduced, if we compare to the amount of noise produced by turbofan engines in the past to today’s modern high-bypass turbofan engines with noise reducing technology which are more quieter.

  6. Here’s another technological solution for aircraft noise that I have thought is really interesting. http://www.exhaustless.com/

  7. “Objective Data” … that is the key question.

  8. Data is not information; it must first be identified, verified and proven to be significant and relevant to a study. Data alone is relatively useless.

    Information can lead to research questions and hypotheses. From these, data collection and analysis can produce statistical probabilities at some specific level of significance. Statistics alone can never prove or disprove. We usually arrive only at opinion.

    Once valid information is obtained, it is possible for a concerned and involved decision maker to exercise wisdom as he addresses a real-world problem.

    These three levels of knowledge–data, information and wisdom–are not often assembled or applied. We are drowning in oceans of data while we seldom arrive at wisdom.

    Many college students never arrive at research validity because they have never learned how to use the “scientific method” of research. Their term papers, masters theses and doctoral dissertations reflect this problem.

  9. Stan Goldstein | November 3, 2016 at 3:37 am | Reply

    Hello, Cynthia— You start your story with quotes which I have heard many times. Unfortunately, they always omit important considerations. Yes, some “ordinary people” make numerous reports about airplane noise, BUT, many folks don’t bother at all because their prior complaints have been ignored (or at any rate set aside) for years. They feel that their complaining does not help, and there is much to support their conclusion.

    Yes, a small number of “ordinary people” make many complaints, BUT a very small number of “special interests” spend HUGE amounts of money to have lobbyists and others impose their points of view on elected officials & government functionaries. Some “special interests” hire lobbyists that (so I’m told) are literally sleeping with influential federal legislators… (but I was not there so I can’t say that authoritatively).

    I’m sure there is much to be said for the concept of eminent domain; HOWEVER, a VERY small number of people make NUMEROUS flights every year, while MOST people take, I’m guessing, a single, roundtrip flight per year or maybe none. That is NOT “eminent domain”. On a more immediate basis, if an MD88 takes off low & loud from my local airport (as they frequently do) it serves as an immediate benefit to, say, 150 passengers on board. HOWEVER, it flies over, say, 30,000 people, before it is either over water or high enough to be unintrusive. That 1 to 200 ratio of passengers to grumpy, land-based, complainers is a far cry from eminent domain!

    SOME airlines provide scheduled flights from NYC to tiny, insignificant, airports in the Carolinas. These grossly under-utilized aircraft, which are utilized primarily by high ranking operators of public airports, for their weekend get-a-ways, make noise that that affects numerous folks on the ground. Sort of “REVERSE eminent domain”.

    If Europe has already lowered sound levels, there is no reason that the USA can’t do the same. If France can impose cash penalties for noisy planes, so can the USA. More significantly, if France can seize a Polish aircraft for not paying fines, so can the USA. Since the technology and methodology for reducing aircraft noise have already been pioneered, it is only a lack of will that prevents proven (although conceivably insufficient) noise reductions from being instituted.

    If anything will promote progress on noise reduction, it is MORE letters & phone calls from a supercharged “small group of loud protesters.” It wlll NOT be “…a mistake to allow the preferences of a vocal but minuscule minority of citizens” to determine the path that is taken. The only mistake will have been the long-standing reticence of the FAA & the airline industry to proactively, institute improvements. Regrettably, Administrator Huerta’s FAA fails to institute even the things they want to do in a timely manner. Hysteresis should not be a dominant part of the political system or airspace management. For sure, the FAA & the airline industry have only themselves to blame, with most of the blame attaching to Huerta and his people.

  10. Kenneth Phillips | February 17, 2019 at 11:08 pm | Reply

    This article is a slick piece of pseudoscience and lies. I have a PhD in Chemistry and did my postdoc in engineering and I have measured noise over Columbia MD. FAA departures out of BWI are over 70dB x 150 per day at 10 miles from the airport. That’s on a log scale single point event. When you integrate on a linear scale, NEXTGEN jets are adding thousands if times more noise energy than a major highway- all with no warnings, no impact study, no compensation for having destroyed the peace and quiet in our homes and natural habitats. Complaints are not just a few people- they have skyrocketed from 300 to 30,000 per month. 30,000 is about how many people live in the new 65dB zone with NEXTGEN so it’s not a surprise. Whoever talks about FAA noise modeling used to approve these changes without community testing is either crazy, or is getting a big paycheck to do so, or both! This is a clear-cut case of regulatory capture, illegal operation by a government entity, and terrorism of hundreds of thousands of Americans who live under the NEXT GEN flight paths. It will also destroy the value of homes in these communities, and the arrivals coming in at 3000 feet at 10 miles from BWI are dumping an Exxon Valdez worth of kerosene ultrafine particulates that will result in blood cancers and asthma. It’s no surprise that both MD and Howard County saw through the industry funded smokescreen and sued to revert to pre-NEXTGEN nav procedures. What pisses me off the most about you airline industry pundits is that you are so arrogant as to dismiss out of hand the health and environmental effects on communities without having lived under one of your own NEXTGEN jet highways.

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