FAA POSITION: naples, 161
Officials discuss the proposed Stage 2 ban; overall implications
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
In March, our cover story presented the position of the Naples Airport Authority (NAA) and its January 1 ban on Stage 2 aircraft at the Naples Municipal Airport. In February, FAA in effect put the ban on hold, directing the NAA to revisit its proposal and methodologies. FAA’s David Bennett, director, Office of Airport Safety and Standards, and Lynne Pickard, manager, Community & Environmental Needs Division, recently discussed the situation at Naples as well as FAR Part 161 and its application. Here’s an edited transcript of that interview.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: As of early March, where are we with the Naples proposal?
Pickard: From a Part 161 standpoint, our last letter on Part 161 deficiencies was January 30. Since that time, the airport authority and their consultant have met with us once here in Washington to make sure they fully understand the deficiencies that we consider to be an issue. Following that meeting, they asked if we could follow through just to make sure we have absolute clarity by having us look informally at a statement of work prepared by their consultant that would address the 161 deficiences. We said we would do that.
We subsequently received a draft statement of work, which had a number of comments on it and we informally marked it up and sent it back to the consultant and he said he would take and revise it and send us a final statement of work to review. We’ve not received that yet.
AB: Can you outline the deficiencies?
Pickard: Our January 30th letter outlines that they did not address other non-restrictive alternatives in their Part 161 analysis, and they also needed to further address their selection of the airport noise study area, which was not a standard selection. It selected a larger area that’s beyond federal guidelines. They have the leeway to do that, but they must explain the reasonable circumstances behind it and they’ve not done that.
AB: A common perception in the industry about Part 161 seems to be that it is intended to allow for more local control regarding noise. Isn’t this what’s happening here?
Pickard: That’s a misperception. If you look back at the Airport Noise and Capacity Act, which generated the regulation, Congress in that act asked FAA to develop a regulation on noise and access restrictions. The act specifically says that Congress is worried about the patchwork of restrictions that have sprung up across the country that pose problems for our national aviation system and for interstate commerce. Congress enacted that act and asked FAA to do the regulation and make it harder for airports to put noise restrictions on airports — not to make it easier. It kept all of the requirements for existing law, including the grant assurance compliance agreement, and it added on top of that additional requirements.
The requirements for Stage 2 analysis and review are additional, on top of other law. For Stage 3, they’re also additional and much harder than for Stage 2. So, it wasn’t to make it easier, to facilitate; it was actually to make it harder.
AB: Yet, the common perception seems to be that it allows for more local control.
Pickard: When that act was passed, the different segments of the aviation community had come together on the issue of aircraft noise at airports. At that time, Congress pretty much struck a balance, and part of that act was to require the phaseout of Stage 2 aircraft over 75,000 pounds, so that airports around the country would get noise benefits delivered on a predictable timeframe.
Finally, ending in the year 2000, there would be predictable noise relief on a nationwide basis. If there had not been that federal phaseout, those Stage 2 aircraft would probably have been operating for ten years or more past 2000. In exchange for that, they put some limitations — they didn’t say absolute prohibitions — on airport operators’ flexibility to impose individual restrictions on aircraft.
Bennett: Because of the phaseout, all of the cost of that was borne by the airline industry, and all of the benefits went to local communities.
AB: What about the issue of aircraft under 75,000 pounds? At Naples, officials say the current regulation affords them no relief. Is there any reason to expect the regulation will be expanded to under 75,000?
Bennett: I don’t foresee any change in the law, but I think that there are a number of things that airports can do; they’re not helpless or without recourse for addressing noise, even for aircraft under 75,000 pounds. I would note that they (Naples) banned Stage 1 and we agreed that they could do that.
AB: What other things can Naples do to address aircraft under 75,000 pounds?
Bennett: They have done many of them: land acquisition; zoning; sound insulation; flight paths.
Pickard: Part of what they would be looking at in a revised Part 161 analysis with non-restrictive alternatives is to do more analysis down to the 60 dnl that they selected, as they have done previously above 65. They took care of all of their noise-sensitive uses at 65 dnl and above through extensive airport noise compatibility plans that didn’t go for just one, perhaps draconian, strategy. They put together a package of different strategies.
There were some landside measures, including sound insulation and further land use controls to prevent more development. There were some air traffic and airport operating measures, such as preferential runway use and some flight track selection, and a restriction of certain types of operations which also went through FAA review.
Part of what we are saying now is you’re not only required to look at non-restrictive alternatives under Part 161, but why aren’t you doing the same job that you did at 65 (dnl) and above? Looking at this whole package of possibilities, you should be able to gain additional noise relief and stay compliant with your airport grant agreements.
Part of the non-restrictive alternatives under Part 161 would be — and they don’t have to select ones that won’t work — land acquisition; sound insulation; flight procedures. Look at a voluntary transition to Stage 3 aircraft by airport users.
Then look at your remaining problem. How much have you gained from these other measures? How much do you still need to gain? And what might you do on a more focused basis to take care of that remaining problem?
AB: At Naples, however, land acquisition is an almost prohibitive proposition.
Pickard: I understand how expensive land is in Naples. They do have to at least analyze it and say why it won’t work.
AB: Another issue at Naples is the one of seasonality. The regulation calls for an annual averaged evaluation, but Naples’ noise problem is primarily seasonal.
Pickard: They actually have provided some seasonality data in their 161; we said fine. In fact, we’ve encouraged them to do any supplemental analysis that will help them focus on the specifics of their problem, even whether it’s operations at particular times of day. There is a requirement to do an annualized dnl analysis, and that works for 99 percent of the locations. For areas like Naples that are heavily seasonal, we would encourge supplemental analysis to help them describe in other ways the noise situation.
AB: So, you wouldn’t be closed to the idea of seasonality under 161?
Pickard: We’re not opposed to it.
AB: In its lawsuit, the National Business Aviation Association charges that the ban negatively affects the national transportation system. Yet, according to Naples, Stage 2 aircraft account for 6.1 percent of operations. How big of an impact can that be on the national system?
Bennett: It’s a small percentage of operations at the airport, but of course that cuts both ways.
Actually, the fleet of these aircraft is getting smaller, but there is still a substantial fleet and there will be people who want to use Naples from time to time. So, it’s fair to consider the impact of it.
Interestingly, when we looked at the Stage 1 restriction, some of the factors we considered was that there were little or no based Stage 1s there. That isn’t true with Stage 2; there are Stage 2 jets based there. We looked at the national fleet of Stage 1 aircraft, which was very small at that time and declining. So there really was an argument that there was very little interstate commerce impact.
Of course, unlike Stage 2, Stage 1 was not protected at all by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act. The final consideration in banning Stage 1 was they actually did have an impact on the 65 dnl contour.
Pickard: Notice that in our February 16th letter (regarding) grant compliance issues, we pointed out that because potential noise benefits would be relatively low, which means less than relief of significant noise impact, that the threshold of the burden of the cost ought to be low also. There’s a relationship there.
Bennett: Another point: The 65 dnl guideline is not a law, but it is the federal guideline for significant impact on residential use of property. It’s been used by other agencies, not just FAA, for many years.
AB: In Naples, the government has set 60 dnl as a noise limit community-wide. How does the airport balance the local ordinance with national policy?
Bennett: FAA has encouraged communities to look beyond 65 for planning and for mitigation actions that they can take under local law, for zoning and planning and perhaps land use and acquisition, to establish a buffer. The difference in the restriction to access is that there is an obligation with the airport grant assurances for reasonable access. To restrict that, they’re operating within a very small exception of that obligation. It’s generally not favored; the FAA supports access by all operators at an airport that has federal funds. The exceptions would have to be very well supported.
Pickard: Basically our February 16th letter says, looking at all of the information available to us, we don’t think you’ve made your case. You have to make more of a case for what you’re doing, particularly since you’re working on a local deviation from national guidelines, below areas of significant noise exposure. Although you’re taking admirable actions to try to limit noise-sensitive development within the 60, you actually don’t seem to be preventing it yourself. So, it looks like more noise-sensitive development under city and county controls could actually be done in this area.
AB:What about the concept of setting precedent at Naples?
Bennett: I don’t know how many other airports are exactly in Naples’ situation, but I think that a lot of airports will be looking at this to see how much discretion they have to cut their local noise standards and then restrict access to the airport.
We’ve had a fair amount of interest in it from other airports and from user groups.
AB: One that comes to mind is Burbank, CA, which is currently undergoing a Part 161 study.
Pickard: Burbank is a very different situation. You’re talking about substantial noise at levels of 65 or above, and it would be a restriction that would affect Stage 3 aircraft, possibly Stage 2 also. Even there, though, with a much bigger noise problem, they’re not looking to my knowledge of prospects of a total ban of any particular class of users. They’re studying some more focused possibilities, which may include some sort of nighttime curfew based on noise limit, not that no one would be allowed at night, and some pretty focused restrictions. That’s the sort of thing we normally see considered; not a total ban on a class of users.
AB: A concern expressed at Naples was that, while officials there appreciated the high level of interface this was receiving by FAA, they were concerned that the agency was not prepared to actually deal with a Part 161 application.
Pickard: I think perhaps they misunderstood some things that were said. The regulation was very thoughtfully done over a year’s period, following the enactment of this act. And we have had 10 years of experience working with different issues that have arisen under it, and have a seasoned team of FAA people that deal with Part 161. They may be referring to the fact that we said we’d never seen one quite like this in our experience, which is a total ban proposed on a class of users based on impacts totally below significant levels. They have no one above significant levels in Naples. We’ve never seen one quite like this.
AB: Looking at Naples and its history of regarding noise restrictions, one gets the sense that the Stage 2 ban may not be the end of the story. That is, what next?
Pickard: That is the case in some communities; I don’t know if that is the case there. We are not saying that people do not have legitimate noise concerns and we’ve in fact offered more than once to continue to work with the airport authority to look more diligently at the noise concerns.
AB: Are there other lessons to be learned from Naples for airports?
Pickard:From a 161 standpoint, we advise airports that are considering 161 restrictions to come in and talk with us informally about it so they understand the requirements of 161 and they understand other federal law that applies.
We really started addressing this with Naples when they put out for public comment this proposed total Stage 2 ban. I think at that point they’d already picked up a lot of momentum and it was difficult for them to pull back and start thinking of it in any new ways. They had raised community expectations and their own expectations and they seemed to be surprised at some of the difficulties. We very much encourage airports to come to us in advance.
AB: One would have assumed, since you had reviewed the Stage 1 ban, that Naples would have been talking with you all along the way.
Pickard: We certainly heard that they wanted to do some more restrictions. But on the Stage 1, they put it in the context of their comprehensive airport noise compatibility program under the Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 program. Now that’s a voluntary program, so they’re not required to do that. But that’s the main way of looking overall at airport noise compatibility issues, and when they proposed the Stage 1 ban they included it as an update to their Part 150 program.
Now I’m not saying that if they went through that same process for this particular ban it would be the same, but they came at it by working with us and with a lot of details. Here, we certainly heard them talking about wanting to put in a restriction, but our first indication of exactly what they wanted to do and when, was when they published a notice to all of the public.
AB: Is one of the lessons here for airports to forget about implementing a ban on Stage 2 aircraft?
Bennett: I guess each airport has to look at its own noise situation and the particular measures, whether they’re access restrictions or other things, that would address the situation. It’s pretty hard to extrapolate from Naples if that would be meaningful someplace else or not. It is a fairly broad and comprehensive regulation of access to the airport — one reason it’s getting a lot of attention. At another airport we’d have to look and see.
AB: So, it’s not necessarily a broadbased ruling on Stage 2 bans?
Bennett:All of the messages we have given at Naples have been directed at the situation in Naples.
There isn’t a national policy to be read out of this, other than we strongly believe the substantive requirements of the grant assurances.