Thursday, November 02, 2017

Federal Aviation Administration: ‘More progress is needed’ on noise

Carl Burleson, left, and Curtis Holsclaw of the Federal Aviation Administration were up from Washington, DC on Monday night for a frank discussion about airport noise problems and what is being attempted to ease or eliminate it.

A major complaint of people who live near airports is that it can seem almost impossible to get a noise complaint heard down in Washington, DC.

So on Monday, Washington came to them at the monthly meeting of the New York Community Aviation Roundtable.

More than 70 people from Queens and Nassau County were on hand at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens for presentations by the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens), who is co-chairman of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The FAA was represented by Carl Burleson, deputy assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and environment; Curtis Holsclaw, acting director and deputy director of the FAA Office of Environment & Energy; and Julie Marks, the agency’s community involvement manager for airspace projects.

Burleson said the FAA takes noise complaints very seriously, and that it is taking a multipronged approach toward them.

“There’s no magic bullet,’ Burleson said.

Or at least, not yet.

Holsclaw led the group through an 18-page PowerPoint presentation laying out what is known about existing problems, and what research is being conducted to reduce or abate airport noise.

“This is the same presentation that Congress got,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and co-chairman of the Roundtable along with Barbara Brown of the Eastern Queens Alliance.

Suozzi, who attended the FAA briefing this past summer, said in his opening remarks that his office has taken 80,000 noise complaints since he took office in January, and that other officials at the local, state and federal levels all get their share. He said there can be a sense of frustration among residents he speaks with.

“Who is tracking these complaints?” Holsclaw asked.

He said the agency is working on a new way of gathering, assessing and responding to such complaints in a consistent manner. It will include interagency crosschecking, new websites and outreach initiatives.

Testing of the system should be complete this year and it will go into full implementation in 2018.

Understanding and dealing with the noise itself, Holsclaw said, is the subject of numerous studies. One, being conducted by numerous colleges and universities, including many with schools of public health, is studying the possibility of reducing the maximum allowed level of prolonged noise exposure from 65 decibels to 55, the standard in many other countries.

A study on how airplane noise impacts people’s sleep is set to begin in 2018. One on cardiovascular health is set for 2020.

And, likely to the delight of Suozzi and his constituents, a helicopter noise study also is in the offing.

Other studies are also planned for impact on children’s learning and what is termed annoyance. The latter appeared to elicit laughter and anger from Nassau County resident Elaine Miller.

“A fly buzzing around my head is an annoyance,” she said. “This is torment.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said Marks, adding that she herself lives under a flight path.

“I know you have concerns; I have them too,” she said.

Marks, who was moved to her post in the last year, said if people have doubts about the FAA’s seriousness on improving community outreach, he or she need only know of her first day, in which she was summoned to what was supposed to be a 10-minute meeting with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta — which included ranking FAA brass and went about an hour with Huerta laying out his expectations.

Burleson and Holsclaw both said technology, careful selection of flight paths and other measures have greatly reduced the number of people in the country who are impacted in their daily lives.

But residents present said technology also has resulted in more and more planes being concentrated into narrower corridors, concentrating the noise of takeoffs and landings into small areas.

Holsclaw said the FAA is studying things like spreading the approach corridors out again and changing other operational procedures, many of which come with trade-offs under existing technology.

“But with that, the noise doesn’t go away; you just spread it out over more people,” he said. “Some people will have less noise, others will have more. ... You’re only deciding who gets what noise when.”

One example involves having landing jets come in higher and having a more abrupt descent, which would result in less noise in outlying neighborhoods, but concentrated clamor directly adjacent.

On some takeoffs, pilots could have the option of using a lower throttle to get into the air, lessening impact near the end of a runway, only to eventually power up farther out to attain altitude.

He said one operational landing procedure with some promise involves pilots touching down farther down the runway than normal — if the plane and the length of the runway allow it to be done safely.

But he also said great strides have been taken in terms of fuel, engine and airframe technology for reducing what is called source noise, and that the search by airlines, manufacturers and regulators will not stop pursuing it.

“That is your magic bullet,” he said.

Some relief on the horizon is courtesy of federal law.

All new planes in the United States must meet stricter so-called Level 4 noise standards, and have since 2006. While it applies only to new aircraft “there are relatively few Stage 3s out there,” Holsclaw said.

Depending on their size, new aircraft must meet Stage 5 noise standards as of this coming Dec. 31, or Dec. 31, 2020.

Brown and Schreiber both said they were pleased with the presentation

“It gives us a lot of grist, a lot of things we can work on,” Brown said.

“The trick now is getting something done,” Schreiber said.

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