The rapacious appetite of urban airports for expansion and recent explosive growth in the air cargo industry have aroused communities throughout the United States. Complaints to the airport or elected officials are an important barometer of public dissatisfaction with airport noise -- but they will not change the situation. Some airports get tens of thousands of noise complaints each year -- at the same time airport planners are working late into the night on new construction that will only aggravate the noise problem.
Few public officials have been willing, or even able, to stand up to the powerful economic forces protected by a subservient Federal Aviation Administration. Efforts to apply rational planning or common sense to airport development are shot down by the FAA as a threat to the "national air transportation system."
The problem of airport noise is extraordinarily complex. But it can be resolved if our national government were genuinely committed to the interests of the public, and not simply a "public interest" synonymous with the aviation industry.
The noise generated by an airport -- the take-offs and landings, the maintenance "run ups" of aircraft engines, and the flights over surrounding communities -- becomes a problem when development of the airport and the surrounding land are incompatible with each other. The problem can arise in two ways. The most common is when an airport built decades ago in some isolation from residential communities continues to expand after build-up of residences in the vicinity of the airport. Less common, but more unsettling, is when a public agency decides to build a massive air facility in suburban or rural areas that never had an airport.
Almost all airports are owned by public agencies, usually a city or county. Thus, local citizens should have the power to make effective demands that any development of an airport consider the impact of development on their lives at home.
Well, folks, it's not that simple.
Arrayed against you is the Federal Aviation Administration, who's job is to "promote" aviation and protect the "national air transportation system". The FAA has tremendous discretionary powers, which are used to bolster airport development plans against attacks by citizens and veto efforts to effectively reduce noise. And all the while the FAA continues to remind us that noise is the primary responsibility of the airports.
What a classic example of "catch 23"!
Local efforts by citizens to reduce the impacts of airport noise on their daily lives are made impossibly difficult by the fact that FAA officials refer critics to the airport, while airport managers send them back to the FAA.
The only way to cut through this bureaucratic shell game is to change the way the FAA operates. And that can only be done through federal legislation. Local citizens groups in the same region or state must cooperate with each other -- and we must all work together nationally -- if we want to achieve results. By cooperating and sharing information we will make the job easier on all of us. If local groups act as if their noise problem is unique -- or believe their hands are full just dealing with the local airport-- the national policy and bureaucracy will remain intact and the noise problem will only get worse.