FIGHTING AIRPORT NOISE
Updated November 19, 2017
Airport noise cannot be stopped, short of closing down an airport. But it can be mitigated. Getting to that point is an extremely complex process that has ground down many citizens who ultimately decided to "get a life" away from endless meetings with airport and FAA officials. Suing the airport for monetary damages may offer sweet revenge to some and perhaps make noise more expensive to the airport but it's not likely to make your community more livable.|
Seasoned veterans will say that it's impossible under the present regime to even deal directly with noise as a problem because of the elaborate regulations spun by the Federal Aviation Administration. The real problem, they will tell you, is understanding these regulations well enough to be able to match wits with FAA and airport officials. Oh boy! Get a life!
What to do? You alone cannot attack airport noise -- not even with the help of your next-door neighbor. You and your community will get nowhere in mitigating airport noise to a livable level until you organize on a massive scale. If airport noise bothers only a handful of people in your community, forget it move out. But if the lives of a significant segment of your community are disrupted by aircraft noise, you've got the potential power to do something.
This section of "Airport Noise Law" has links to the essential information you will need to become effective in ending unreasonable aircraft noise. Because grassroots organizations quickly disintegrate in the face of the complexity of the bureaucracy and regulations surrounding aircraft noise, we try to describe in plain language the key airport actions that active citizens should focus on, such as:
This section is necessarily always evolving. We want to post information that is useful today the details of proven political strategies, as well as ways of getting results from the FAA and airports. If there are specific topics you want covered here, or you have experience to share, send e-mail to the website editor.
About Nonprofit Organizations Incorporation limits the legal liability of individuals in the group and creates strong accountability both within the organization and toward the community at large. However, many respected community-based organizations are unincorporated associations.
Homeowner Associations Homeowner associations can be effective advocates for airport noise mitigation if a significant enough portion of homes are affected by noise. In fact, it can be argued that directors of homeowner associations have a fiduciary duty to protect members' homes from devaluation due to airport noise. A California Court of Appeals has ruled that homeowner associations may contribute to political action committees that lobby against airport expansion -- see Finley v. Superior Court Orange County. In this case several homeowner associations in Orange County, California contributed over half a million dollars in two years to support a county ballot measure that would have prevented conversion of a closed military base into a commercial public airport.
Know the Technical Lingo become familiar with some fundamental concepts so you don't get bamboozled by technocrats.
Know Key Statutes and Regulations you only need to be familiar with a small number of statutes and regulations to understand in principle the complex framework of regulations governing airports. See especially Acts of Congress Relevant to Airport Noise Control.
Know Where to Get Answers
Communicate with Others Working on the Issue
What Happened to the Noise Control Act of 1972? The EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control was charged by Congress with implementing the Noise Control Act of 1972. After ONAC was effectively put out of business by the Reagan Administration, does the Noise Control Act have any real effect? See Creation of ONAC and The Defunding of ONAC. In each session of Congress in recent years an effort has been made, unsuccessfully, to fund again the ONAC (see Legislation).
Dealing with the Airport
Disclosure of Identity of Noise Complainants Is the public owner of an airport required to disclose the identity of airport noise complainants if requested? The question depends in large part on whether the state has an equivalent of the federal Freedom of Information Act. Many people will not register complaints of any kind unless they can do so anonymously. In California the question whether the privacy of complainants is stronger than any public right to access government records was first addressed in California Attorney General Opinion 94-903 (1995), which proposed a balancing test for deciding the question. The issue was later addressed by an appellate court in City of San Jose v. Superior Court (San Jose Mercury News) (1999), which concluded that a newspaper was not entitled to know the names, addresses, and telephone numbes of persons complaining about noise to San Jose International Airport.
Letters of Agreement with the FAA an airport can request from FAA air traffic control that it follow specific noise-mitigation measures. If the FAA agrees, the airport and FAA should sign a letter of agreement to document the measures.
Financing Airport Expansion
Dealing with the FAA
FAA Community Involvement Manual (PDF file) The manual reaffirms that the FAA is committed to giving the public an opportunity to be informed and become involved in FAA decision-making. It provides guidance for FAA employees who are involved in planning, conducting, or approving aviation actions that may raise concerns within a community.
FAA publications valuable information for community leaders who want to understand the FAA's rules and policies on airport noise. See especially the FAA Advisory Circulars.
FAA and Noise Abatement the agency gets to veto any initiatives to control noise (with some important exceptions), but has no responsibility to reduce noise. See the following:
FAA Funds for Noise Abatement the FAA doles out billions of dollars under two programs -- the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) Program -- to buy out private property in the way of airport expansion and to insulate homes and schools from the ravages of aircraft noise. For more information see "Airport Improvement Program" in the Index to the Website.
National Airspace System Architecture is the FAA's comprehensive plan for the future. The original document (version 4.0) was completed in 1998 and published January 1999. The "NAS Architecture" is updated at the website.
Strategies to Evaluate Aircraft Routing Plans a report issued in January 1999 by an independent study group following heated political debate over the responsiveness of the FAA to complaints from various communities in New Jersey about overflight noise.
Computer Models Computer models are used to estimate increases in aircraft noise, economic growth, or any other future condition due to airport development.
Key Legal Information
Airport Noise and Residential Property Value Owners of property next to an airport may have a claim against the airport owner for loss of value on their property due to noise and overflight.
Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990
Noise Abatement and Control: Overview of Federal Standards and Regulations A brief paper prepared in 2000 by the Congressional Research Service.
State Aviation Statutes Although states cannot control aircraft in flight, they can and do regulate the planning and operation of airports and many aviation-related matters.
Suing Your Airport for Nuisance Damages in Small Claims Court Going to court is usually a bad idea. Taking your fight from the political arena to the courts usually saps your resources, diverts your attention away from your real strength, throws you into an arena where your adversaries have the advantage, and ties you up for years in boring technical arguments. Nevertheless, there's an easy way to hold an airport accountable for its environmental assault on private property.