How to be better heard by the FAA at Rep. Lynch’s Boston Noise Meeting

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m55US Representative Stephen Lynch represents the 8th Congressional District of Massachusetts and that landmass lies to the south and west of Boston’s Logan International Airport. Under the Constitution he has extensive powers to convey to the national government the views of his constituents. Under that capacity he has called a “meeting” at Milton High School on December 3rd.

According to the press release, this meeting will “address growing complaints about the frequency and increased levels of airplane noise in local towns and neighborhoods that are impacted by Logan Airport air traffic.” To set the context of this convocation, the release added the following context:

“Much of the increase in noise coincides with the adoption of the NextGen, GPS-based navigation system. The GPS-based flight system guides hundreds of flights per day with laser-like precision over a narrow flight path. While the RNAV procedures of the NextGen system can increase efficiency and save on jet fuel costs, the neighborhoods lying beneath those flight paths can experience extended periods of aircraft noise, raising health implications and negatively impacting the quality of life for local families.”

The Congressman recites past efforts to meet with elected officials representing his constituents. In contrast requests to attend community forums have been resisted. A meeting with the FAA Administrator secured a commitment of attendance of someone from the agency in the 8th District. Rep. Lynch is quoted as saying:

“The upcoming face-to-face meeting in Milton with FAA officials will allow people who are being impacted to have the opportunity to be heard. Local communities deserve to have more say in the FAA decision-making process.  I am hopeful that through this forum we can increase community engagement and find a way to ease the disproportionate burden of airplane noise on residents of impacted communities.”m77Meetings can be dialogues or monologues. It sounds like Rep. Lynch expects that the FAA person should bring a yellow tablet, listen and take notes.

Having sat on both sides of the table at many community noise meetings, here are some suggestions to those intending to go to Milton High School next month:

  1. It may make you feel better to vent, but that euphoria will likely only last until you get home. If your goal is to “convince” the FAA to change its ATC routes, speak (to borrow TR’s famous aphorism) softly and carry big technical information. Data will cause the FAA to reconsider; emotions and anger will not.
  2. The design of Air Traffic Control architecture is neither intuitive nor linear.
    • In drafting a proposed flight path, the #1 criterion is safety. One must understand the aerodynamic limitations of an aircraft; speed, altitude and the ability to make certain maneuvers (climb, return, increase/decrease speed, etc.) restrict the definition of the lines to and from a runway. The creator of these operational paths cannot minimize any of these variables. This is not just priority number one, but it counts as two, three….x It is unacceptable to the FAA, as it should be for the people living below the plane, to reduce the safety margin.
    • The ATC staffers, who create these flight patterns, are statutorily required to include “efficiency” in the calculus of this work. This factor includes whether the options facilitate the handling of aircraft into and out of the airport
    • to meet the needs of the passengers who use the airports and
    • to reduce
      1. the fuel consumed = CO² emissions and
      2. the noise impact on the ground {the faster a plane climbs and the slower it descend, the less energy is generated from the aircraft}.
    • The third input into this complex calculus involves minimizing noise impact on sensitive points on the map. Where these markers are avoidable, the lines will be drawn around them. This tertiary consideration will NEVER trump the #1 criterion; there may be occasions where neighborhood considerations and the #2 factors can be jointly optimized.
    • There is one important aspect of ATC design—IT IS A ZERO SUM GAIN. Moving noise from Point A means that Point B will be the recipient of that noise.
  3. The FAA has invested a great deal of time to create the BOS ATC architecture, so…
    1. Opening your presentation with a line like “whoever drew these lines must be a _____(your favorite polite epithet) will not be productive. The FAA’s representative’s ear canal will likely close. It is a common human reaction to vilify someone whom you perceive as inflicting harm on you; using such an approach will assure that no change will be made after your presentation.
    2. Speak to the staff in their language, use their technical terms, acknowledge their efforts and explain how the new system affects you. For example, do not just say “it is noisier now”; cite the precise number of added dBs which are being experienced.
    3. This is not the forum to debate the merits of LDN. That standard is under the jurisdiction of others within the FAA and is subject to an ongoing research study. If you feel the necessity to make this point, give a short comment and move on.
    4. Posing lines which may make sense to you (remember this is not intuitive and is complex) will not help. An alternative, which REALLY meets all of the above listed variables and improves your situation, may result in change. The rationale and data which will support a well-structured option may add to the likelihood that your position will succeed. A package which can easily be adopted means less work for the FAA.
    5. CONSENSUS—if community 1 demands Route A while community 2 says no to option A preferring Route B (an example of zero sum), then it is easy for the FAA to retain its existing ATC architecture. If, however, Communities 1 through 5 (out of seven, for example) agree that provides the FAA with a difficult array to deny.

The FAA has already implemented the NextGen ATC operations. Their changes have resulted in the following national benefits:


This looks to be a fait accompli. Trying to rollback such substantial changes will be almost impossible unless the community can produce a consensus “slam dunk.” The process of involvement should be reversed.

Expert support should be applied at the beginning of the process when the FAA faces as much of a tabula rasa then; their degrees of freedom provide the most options. At that stage, the community can, for example, identify the noise sensitivities which may or may not be on the map.

When there are options in which only factors 2 and 3 are in play, their opinions can be more easily weighed. If Rep. Lynch wants to propose a bill which will assure greater, perhaps more aptly “better,” impact on these reviews, creating a mechanism to bring such expert resources involve early in the NextGen implementation would create greater community leverage.

Your presentation at the FAA Meeting at Milton High School will be more effective if you can incorporate this advice.


ARTICLE: Lynch to Host Airplane Noise Forum with the FAA

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