The Noise, the Neighbors

The goal of noise mitigation, is to quell the disturbance so the complaining community groups will leave the airport alone.

The goal of noise mitigation, formal or informal, is to quell the disturbance so the complaining community groups will leave the airport and its users alone. But what typically happens? Some airports have formally terminated their improvement and/or expansion plans because community opposition has not diminished, as the airports and users had hoped. Instead, community opposition may increase with even greater intensity, even though - through informal or formal noise mitigation - an airport installs every type of noise abatement procedure known to exist and (in most cases) actually reduces noise. Why then, does this happen?

To learn the answer, consider the beginnings of noise abatement at the first two airports, in California, to design and implement such programs: Torrance (TOA) and Santa Monica (SMO). The goal was not to improve (much less expand) the airports; rather, officials wanted to close them as quickly as possible - they wanted to enact the ultimate noise mitigation measure.

However, FAA would not permit either airport to close, so Torrance and Santa Monica devised and promulgated numerous noise abatement measures and regulations, including curfews and outright bans of certain types of aircraft. The underlying purpose of these measures was not to quiet community complaints or to convince them to accept the airport - far from it. The purpose was to empower neighborhood communities with more reasons and incentives to complain - and to do so with greater intensity - in the hope that FAA would eventually relent and permit Santa Monica and Torrance to close their airports.

It stands to reason that when other airports decide to promulgate noise abatement programs, thinking it will mollify the community's will to resist and permit improvements or expansion, those programs simply won't achieve the result. Instead, community groups will behave exactly as they did (and still do at Torrance and Santa Monica) where the goal is still to close.

Regarding formal mitigation, every decision from FAA that I've studied, no matter what the decision, meets with resistance from all sides. Community groups feel their complaints are ignored; pilots feel like hostages instead of customers as they're pressured and intimidated to accept unreasonable mitigation measures; political leaders and airport management talk in circles from both sides, because political leaders fear being voted out of office by constituents and airport management fears being fired if they don't go along. Is it any wonder then, why this problem persists?

Same Problem, Different Approaches

There is no law that requires an airport proprietor to reduce noise. However, existing federal case law does permit an airport proprietor to take measures to reduce noise, provided that the measures are reasonable, non-arbitrary, and non-discriminatory. By law, the primary focus of noise mitigation must be on reasonableness, while noise reduction must be secondary.

This approach at Terry Airport (TYQ), now known as Indianapolis Executive, near Indianapolis [see sidebar] showed that all parties can quickly understand and accept the concept of reasonableness, rather than arguing about the alleged benefits of a noise reduction measure, or the amount of noise the airport will make if it improves or expands.

Realizing this, the complaining communities opted to voluntarily terminate their noise issue with Terry Airport on their own volition without FAA involvement. The airport was able to abolish all noise abatement procedures without protest, build a new jet terminal, and realize a 400 percent growth in jet traffic - of which approximately 40 percent is Stage 2. What's more, about 30 percent of the Stage 2 operations are at night after 10 p.m. Yet, no one complains. The entire process was completed in a few short months at proportionately less cost, and offers potential for any airport.

Consider two examples for noise mitigation failure ...

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