Where Do We Go From Here?

Editorial by Marlin Beckwith
Manager, Aeronautics Program,
California Department of Transportation

Originally published in Caltrans Aviation News, 1996

I recently participated in the 11th Annual Airport Noise Symposium held in San Diego. For those who are not famlilar with this event, it is a program developed by the University of California's Institute of Transportation Studies, the FAA Western-Pacific Region, and Caltrans. This annual session is designed to address the concerns identified by individuals who (1) have responsibility for mitigating airport noise, (2) are impacted by airport noise, or (3) have other involvement with the issue of airport noise.

The general theme of this symposium was "Build Anew or Transform the Old?" Topics included the noise situation at the new Denver International, the dual-track planning process at Minneapolis-St, Paul (expand the existing airport or build a new one), future funding sources for noise mitigation, and progress in converting the commercial fleet to Stage 3.

Several clear messages emanated from the symposium. First, there are steps that can be taken to address noise problems, through in-flight operations (takeoffs, landings, fight tracks, etc.) and activities on the airport itself. While more can be done in this area, alternatives are limited, especially due to safety considerations. Second, there is the airplane itself. Significant progress has been made in the Stage 3 conversion of the commercial fleet and the FAA is serious about sticking to its target of the year 2000 for 100% compilance.

The question is, "Then what?" No one to my knowledge is talking seriously about a Stage 4 aircraft. Obviously, then, we are nearing the maximum contribution that aircraft can make to mitigating noise. Thus, land use is rapidly becoming the only remedy available to us. Of course, there are mitigation measures that we all know, including insulation of buildings, air conditioning of homes, aviation easements, and property acquisition. These measures require considerable dollar investment and, as we learned at the symposium, existing funding sources are shrinking, especially at the federal level. While much more can, should, and will be done to implement mitigation measures, progress will likely be very slow.

Where this finally leads us is to the preventative measures that must be taken now. These measures are, in my view, the most effective, but are also the most difficult to put into place. Simply stated, local decision makers must make the tough choices for determining compatible land uses around an airport. California's airports provide a vital service to the State and their surrounding communities. They should be provided with the opportunities and safeguards that they deserve.