The Environmentally Sensitive FAA:
The Airport Improvement Program and Noise Control

[The following is from the 14th Annual Report of Accomplishments under the Airport Improvement Program, FY 1995 (year ending Sept. 30, 1995).]


The FAA evaluates potential adverse environmental impacts that may result from an airport development project before approving or financing the project. This evaluation is based on requirements contained in the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and other Federal laws, regulations, and orders which detail specific criteria to be used for protecting the human and natural environment. Specific areas of environmental concern include air quality, water quality, public recreation lands, farmlands, hazardous materials, historical and archeological sites, endangered species, coastal zones, wetlands, flood plains, and noise. This evaluation process provides FAA, other Federal, State, and local agencies, and members of the public a better understanding of a proposed airport project's potential adverse environmental impacts and identifies measures to lessen or eliminate those effects.

FAA's detailed environmental evaluations, which ensure compliance with NEPA and other pertinent environmental directives, are predicated on the nature of the proposed action and the severity of its environmental impacts. FAA's Office of Airports has developed FAA Order 5050.4A, Airport Environmental Handbook, to define the scope of environmental evaluations. The Order identifies the types of airport projects that normally fit predetermined scopes of analyses, which range from limited to very comprehensive. Although there is much commonality among projects at various airports, each project is still judged on its own merits. In addition to its published airport environmental procedures, the FAA provides updated guidance to its field offices as a result of revisions in laws and regulations enacted and promulgated by Congress, the President, and other Federal agencies.

The documents resulting from environmental analyses serve to protect environmental resources when Federal actions related to airports are being considered. FAA procedures identify the types of actions that require either an environment assessment by the airport sponsor, a more detailed environmental impact statement prepared by the FAA, or a limited review based on a predefined category of excluded projects. Section 102(2)(C) of NEPA requires an environmental impact statement when a project would significantly affect the quality of the human environment. If, after detailed study, the impacts are determined to be insignificant (not exceeding any thresholds of significance set for the particular environmental issue being evaluated), an appropriate determination will be made reflecting this finding.

The environmental process is one that can range in complexity and duration. The FAA first reviews the proposed project to determine if it is one of a predefined category of excluded actions. These projects are commonly referred to as categorical exclusions (CEs). These projects normally do not significantly affect specially protected resources such as endangered or threatened species, historical properties with significant public interest for preservation, parkland, etc. If this determination can be made, no further environmental analysis is required.

If the project would adversely affect environmental resources, the FAA will assist the airport sponsor in preparing an environmental assessment (EA), based on the requirements outlined in FAA Order 5050.4A. If after reviewing the EA, the FAA concludes that the action would not significantly affect environmental resources, the FAA prepares a document known as a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). On the other hand, if the project will significantly affect the environment, the FAA must further analyze the severity of the impacts and evaluate measures that could reduce or eliminate adverse degradation of ecological systems. The formal document containing this detailed study is known as an environmental impact statement (EIS) and often uses the EA prepared by the airport sponsor as the basis for further analysis. The EIS is generally prepared by FAA. However, the FAA may be assisted by an FAA-selected consultant specializing in the evaluation and assessment of environmental impacts. The result is a document that identifies the environmental impacts resulting from Federally approved or financed airport projects and discusses measures to minimize those impacts to the greatest extent possible.


In FY 1992, the FAA began administering new Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 161, which was issued September 25, 1991. Part 161 implements provisions of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA) by establishing a national program for reviewing airport noise and access restrictions on Stage 2 and Stage 3 aircraft operations. Part 161 also advises airport operators on how ANCA and Part 161 apply to the airport noise compatibility planning process conducted under FAR Part 150. The FAA has established a "team" to review airport noise and access restrictions as issues of applicability to ANCA and Part 161 are raised.

The FAA is continuing its streamlining effort for Part 150 to improve its effectiveness into the next century. A revised rule is being developed which will require airport operators to take into account the effect on the noise environment of ANCA's phase out of Stage 2 aircraft by the year 2000.

During FY 1995, FAA found 17 noise exposure maps in compliance with Part 150 and approved 19 noise compatibility programs (NCP) submitted by airport operators. These included 4 updates of programs that were previously approved by the FAA. At the close of FY 1995, 232 airports were participating in the program, 207 of them with Federal planning grants to conduct the Part 150 analysis. Almost 200 airports have approved programs successfully in place, and many have applied for funding to update their programs. Since an approved NCP is a prerequisite to receiving funds for most mitigation actions, most airport operators have participated in some level of noise planning. They view the opportunity to conduct planning and mitigation with Federal funds as a means to foster better relations with the adjacent and nearby communities.

[WEB-EDITOR'S NOTE; See also FAA Guidelines on Zoning in connection with AIP grants to airports.]