FAA Denies Nighttime Noise Curfew at Burbank Airport

NOVEMBER 4, 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on November 2 that it has rejected the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority’s application for flight curfews at Bob Hope Airport.

The airport authority’s proposal — nine years and $7 million in the making — would ban most air traffic at Bob Hope Airport between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. Emergency flights and medical aircraft would be exempt from the curfew. Airlines today operate under a voluntary agreement not to fly between those times.

The application was the first of its kind to make it through the review process mandated by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Act was intended to create a uniform nationwide process for imposing restrictions on the operations of "stage 3" jet aircraft. Stage 3 jets at the time had the latest noise-suppression technology.

The aviation industry, fearing the growing opposition to airport expansion because of noise and engine exhaust, pushed for the Act to make it difficult for individual airports to impose air traffic restrictions. Under the 1990 Act an airport must file an application with the FAA, supported by extensive research to avoid unjustifiably discriminating against stage-3 jets. The applications are known as "Part 161 applications", referring to Part 161 of FAA regulations.

Residents near the Bob Hope Airport have fought for a nighttime noise curfew since the 1970s. Officials for decades have sought to restrict nighttime flights at Bob Hope to cut down on noise for some 180,000 residents in Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles who live under the airport’s flight paths. A Burbank ordinance banning overnight takeoffs was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.

Burbank officials contend that while aircraft noise is a common concern in many communities, they were not aware of another city in which the problem has been contentious for so long.

In a 42-page letter released Monday the FAA ruled that the proposed curfew would unreasonably burden air traffic and commerce. “Based on the information submitted in this application, it is not likely the benefits will outweigh the costs to users,” the FAA decision stated. The FAA's decision letter said the application failed to meet four of six conditions, stating a curfew would hinder business in the air and on the ground. It gave alternatives for dealing with airport noise.

The Bob Hope curfew has garnered support from Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena city officials, as well as Reps. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

Rep. Schiff said the FAA’s interpretation of the conditions was too stringent. “We don’t want cities going through this process if the FAA isn’t going to take the statute seriously,” he said.

Rep. Sherman said that the FAA’s standards were so high that no airport in the country could secure a nighttime curfew. On Monday he announced legislation to allow Bob Hope and Van Nuys airports to implement mandatory nighttime curfews. It was drafted in conjunction with the city of Burbank and includes a clear exclusion for medical and other emergency flights, affecting only a small number of cargo flights each day or night.

Research prepared by the Airport Authority for its application indicated that through 2015 the restrictions would generate about $67 million in public benefits and $48 million in costs to airlines, passengers, cargo carriers, and general aviation.

The International Air Cargo Assn., Cargo Airline Assn., National Air Transportation Assn., and Air Transport Assn. of America formally opposed the proposed curfew. Fed Ex and the United Parcel Service also deemed the proposal a burden on interstate commerce.

San Fernando Valley homeowners maintain that a curfew at Bob Hope would shift flights to Van Nuys Airport, increasing their noise problem. Officials with Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International, Van Nuys, and Ontario International airports, have likewise expressed concern that restrictions would shift operations from Bob Hope to their facilities. “All of the airports in that region are already congested,” Catlett said. “It really could become a significant problem.”

However, the Burbank Airport Authority told the FAA that the curfew would affect only a small number of aircraft, “an almost imperceptible number of operations in the context of the national air transportation system,” according to the Airport Authority's application.

The Airport Authority can challenge the FAA's denial by asking for a federal court order vacating the FAA's decision. Airport Authority Commissioner Don Brown said the commission will carefully review the FAA document and consult with attorneys before deciding on a next step. “I’ve always said from the very beginning that the Part 161 Study is designed for failure,” Brown said. “Now the question is how we respond.”

Source: Based in part on a report in