October 19, 2000

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of the Chief Counsel
Attn: Rules Docket (AGC-200)
Docket No. 30109
800 Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20591

Re: Comment on Aviation Noise Abatement Policy 2000

Save Our Heritage would like to respond to the request for comments regarding the FAA Noise Abatement Policy revisions, Docket # 30109.

We are very deeply concerned about the further erosion in the rights of citizens and the degradation of environmental quality that will result from the implementation of this policy. At the Hanscom Field Airport in our communities, these policies will result in damage to historical, natural and cultural landmarks, in contravention of NEPA and the NHPA.

We are alarmed that the FAA continues to enact policies that directly assault citizens and national landmarks, instead of working to make aviation a tolerable neighbor. This policy, like the recent attempts to bully the European Community into relaxing the environmental regulations relating to hushkits, will only fuel FAA’s image as an agency bought and paid for by aviation interests, instead of an agency that serves the people of the United States. (Indeed, in the hushkit matter the EC is simply trying to implement the spirit of regulations that the United States itself promulgated). These actions will simply polarize more and more people against the FAA, and against the aviation interests that appear to control it.

The continued reference in FAA documents (such as Section 1 of the proposed policy) to 65 dB DNL as the threshold of significant impact is wrong. The only formal definition of 65 dB DNL is in FAR Part 150, as the threshold of incompatibility with residential land use. This is not at all the same as saying that levels below 65 dB DNL do not generate "significant impact." The FAA’s conflation of "incompatible with residential use" and "significant impact" is logically equivalent to the following proposition: "Death occurs at radiation doses above five Sieverts; therefore, doses of less than five Sieverts are compatible with life," which is an absurd statement. Yet the FAA continues to misuse the term "significant impact" in this manner, and its misuse has been formalized in the proposed policy.

The U.S. EPA has established through reports and administrative comments that 55 dB DNL is the noise limit that is satisfactory to protect human health and welfare in a residential setting. "Outdoor yearly levels on the Ldn [DNL] scale are sufficient to protect public health and welfare if they do not exceed 55 dB in sensitive areas (residences, schools, and hospitals)." (EPA Publication #319, "Protective Noise Levels," 1978).

Concerns regarding the exclusive use of 65 dB DNL have been expressed repeatedly and consistently at various meetings of the Federal Interagency Committee on Aircraft Noise (FICAN.) The 1997 FICAN Annual Report (pp. 16-17) makes it clear that the issue of 65 dB DNL as the proper level of land use compatibility is widely questioned, and that this DNL is no longer considered appropriate, particularly in suburban and rural areas.

In the communities surrounding Hanscom Field, citizens file thousands of formal noise complaints with the Massachusetts Port Authority every year. In fact, more noise complaints are filed at Hanscom Field than are filed at nearby Logan International Airport in Boston. Protest rallies with as many as 750 people have demonstrated against the noise impact of this airport. These are some of the largest rallies of this kind ever in America. Yet according to FAA standards, not one person in these communities is significantly impacted. This is an absurd result, plainly and starkly in contradiction to actual human experience, and it vividly demonstrates the failure of the FAA’s noise standards to adequately describe airport impact.

We enclose for your consideration and review the 1999 report of the Hanscom Field Noise Workgroup, which was chartered by the Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs. In particular, the recommendations in the Metrics and Modeling section critique the use of Ldn and make concrete recommendations for alternative approaches which are more likely to successfully describe airport impacts.

We also enclose for your consideration a 1992 paper titled "Ldn, Necessary but Not Sufficient" which was written by FICAN’s noise advisors, Harris, Miller, Miller, and Hanson, Inc. This paper clearly describes the problems associated with DNL and explains how the FAA might approach the problem in a more constructive manner.

Therefore, we ask that Aviation Noise Abatement Policy 2000 delete all references to 65 DNL as a threshold for assessing "significant impact," or in the alternative that the policy include the following disclaimer: THE FAA DEFINITION OF 65 DB DNL AS A THRESHOLD FOR SIGNIFICANT IMPACT IS NOT MEANT TO DEFINE WHAT MAY OR MAY NOT AMOUNT TO A "SIGNIFICANT EFFECT ON THE QUALITY OF THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT" FOR PURPOSES OF ANALYSIS UNDER NEPA.

Policy element #4 continues to indicate that the Part 161 process is the only method available to either the airport proprietor or local or state government to enact legal limits or restrictions on airports. However, an FAA official informed our communities that "the FAA has never granted a restriction under Part 161 and it never will." We ask that all reference to Part 161 be omitted from the proposed policy, because it leads the public to believe that there is a mechanism to limit airport impacts when in practice there is no mechanism.

Finally, policy element #5 clearly articulates the FAA’s position that land use planning is a tool to be used to eliminate noise sensitive sites, such as schools or neighborhoods, by effectively limiting land uses around an airport. The policy does not accept or consider the possibility that land use planning might result in the need to limit the noise or expansion of an airport. The policy does not acknowledge that there are things that cannot be moved or excluded from current or future airport buffer zones, such as national parks, state and federal historic landmarks, and key natural resources such as national wildlife refuges. In these situations, there is a national interest in limiting the noise or expansion of an airport. This is a very serious defect in the policy that should be corrected prior to its issuance.

In conclusion, it is imperative for the FAA to understand that actions such as the proposed policy, which seek to relax environmental controls and limit citizens’ rights, directly contribute to the growing number of people in this country who are angry about the increasing environmental impact of aviation. Treating people who suffer from airport noise and pollution, and historical and natural resources that are endangered by proximity to airports, as mere barriers to commerce is a shortsighted mistake that will do nothing to help aviation interests in America.


Neil Rasmussen
Save Our Heritage