An Attempt to Limit Noise

It hasn’t been easy. The process by which communities can attempt to get more local control over activities at their airport — the Federal Aviation Regulation Part 161 study and approval process — was intended to be a challenge. For the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, which oversees the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, it has been arduous, relates executive director Dan Feger. In late May, the authority was notified by the Federal Aviation Administration that the agency had approved the authority’s Part 161 study and application as complete, and FAA expects to make a final ruling to approve or disapprove the airport’s proposed curfew on Stage 3 aircraft operations by November 1. Feger recently spoke with AIRPORT BUSINESS about the initiative. [Note: The interview was conducted just prior to the FAA’s acceptance of the application.]

This is the first FAR Part 161 study to seek Stage 3 restrictions. It follows an effort by the airport in Naples, FL which sought Stage 2 aircraft restrictions and underwent a similarly intense and costly process that ultimately was successful via the courts.

Bob Hope Airport wants to put a curfew on most aircraft operations (except emergency services; law enforcement; etc.) between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. [FAA’s letter and additional information are available at]

Feger has been employed at the Bob Hope Airport since 1988, originally as director of planning and engineering. More significantly, he has been involved with the Part 161 process from the beginning, he says.

Following are edited excerpts of the interview with Feger ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: As someone who has been involved with the Part 161 process from the beginning, what would be your assessment of your airport’s experience?

Feger: Groundbreaking. We’re the first airport in the United States that has ever gone as far as we’ve gone in trying to pursue an access restriction on Stage 3 aircraft. Naples was Stage 2 aircraft. So, it’s groundbreaking.

We’re waiting with baited breath to get a letter back from FAA, which we hope we’ll get in the next few days which will deem our application is complete. It means that we have submitted all of the required documentation and analysis that is necessary in order for the FAA to do a comprehensive review of our application.

AB: Are you optimistic?

Feger: In terms of getting it deemed complete, I’m optimistic. FAA has already sent us correspondence which was pretty pessimistic. The FAA has sent us letters which would give you a pretty pessimistic picture of their willingness to grant a full curfew to the airport.

AB: An interesting thing about Part 161 is, communities see it as an avenue to control their local airport. Yet, if you talk with FAA airport division folks, they tell you that it’s actually intented to do just the opposite. That is, to discourage airport sponsors by making the process arduous. Your thoughts?

Feger: That’s consistent with the language that FAA wrote to us about our application, where they said it set a high bar — I think those were the exact words.

AB: What has been the response from your tenants?

Feger: It’s not popular with the airline business in general. Nobody who owns an airplane and has an investment in hardware wants to have a restriction as to when he can use it.

By the same token, members of the community are trying to enjoy their quality of life. There has to be some sort of a compromise there.

The authority for many years has had a voluntary curfew here, and it’s been highly effective. But it’s not completely effective.

AB: You’ve spent millions of dollars on this effort. Yet, you have a voluntary curfew program that has been effective. Considering the amount of money spent, and the prospects that FAA won’t approve it, is it justified?

Feger: If you listen to the members of the community, the bigger fear is growth at this airport. The lesser fear is the known quantity of what they have today. The problem is not that great today. In fact, with the measures that the authority has taken, with the home sound insulation program, with the continual quieting of the fleet as older aircraft get retired, the problem is actually diminishing here.

But the fear that the community has had is that over time the growth that this airport could experience could overcome the improvements that have been made to date. The desire to achieve a curfew is as much or more driven by the future as it is by the present.

It’s hard to do a cost/benefit analysis — we spent $6-to-7 million doing this study, compared to a voluntary curfew. The concern is the voluntary curfew compliance rate is going to go down as well.

There are a lot of aircraft that leave this airport right at 7 a.m. The 7 o’clock push, over time if there’s a lot of growth here, you’ll see that is where the voluntary curfew will deteriorate, between 6 and 7 a.m. That’s the pressure here.

AB: How would you characterize the mood of the community? Angry? Trying to co-exist with the airport?

Feger: It isn’t a constant.

If you go back in time, there was a lot of angry sentiment towards this airport. Way back in time, when this was a really noisy airport with the old 727 military operations, there was a tremendous anti-airport sentiment. But over the years — especially in the past couple of years — that sentiment has died down, again because the problem has diminished.

The threat of expansion of the airport has been diminished as well. The airport authority entered into a development agreement with the City of Burbank that, beginning in 2005, for a period of ten years we wouldn’t even talk about a new terminal.

So there’s this ten-year cooling off period where people that live around the airport don’t have to worry about expansion. It’s a very significant factor in the dimunition of the anti-airport sentiment.

In the last election in the City of Burbank the airport was not a topic. It’s not on the radar right now.

AB: A related issue is that if you’re successful in getting your curfew, there are other airports that could be impacted.

Feger: Our 161 study identified that there was potential to shift some of the aircraft that fly at night to other airports, principally Van Nuys Airport. One of the measures that the airport authority adopted as part of a resolution was that we believe that all of the residents of the valley should enjoy the same nighttime noise relief that happens here at Burbank. As a result the airport authority would support the same type of curfew that we get here at Van Nuys. If we get a nighttime full curfew here, we would support the same thing at Van Nuys.

That would help diminish the shifting effect.

People who fly at night usually can choose to fly at night. People flying at night are mostly general aviation and air cargo operations. All of our scheduled departures are before 10 p.m. Most of the general aviation folks could choose to fly at a different time. If there wasn’t a convenient airport like Van Nuys for them to fly out of, there’s a high likelihood they would choose not to fly at night.

In L.A., Part 161 x 2

The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners in March awarded a $6.48 million contract to Harris Miller Miller and Hanson, Inc., of Burlington, MA, for FAR Part 161 noise studies at Los Angeles International (LAX) and Van Nuys (VNY) Airports. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which oversees both facilities, is the first airport authority in the U.S. to embark on two simultaneous Part 161 studies at separate airports. In addition, the VNY study is the first in the U.S. to attempt to implement multiple proposed noise and access restrictions.