Stage 2 Challenges

Oct. 8, 2000

Stage 2 Challenges

NBAA shares its perspective on recent airport noise initiatives

By Jeffrey H. Gilley, Manager, Airports & Ground Infrastructure, NBAA

October 2000

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) prides itself on its ability to work with communities and airport proprietors to develop reasonable solutions to noise-related problems. Recent local initiatives, however, have required NBAA to take a more adversarial role to preserve business aviation access to the national aviation system.

The federally mandated phase-out of transport category Stage 2 aircraft in the United States was accomplished effective December 31, 1999. Stage 2 business jets have now gained visibility as the only privately owned Stage 2 aircraft operating in the U.S. Even though many Stage 2 executive jets are quieter (in terms of absolute noise) than certain Stage 3 transport category aircraft, we have recently seen increased focus on restricting Stage 2 business jet access by certain noise-sensitive communities and by certain communities for whom aircraft noise is a political issue.
In recent months, two communities — Los Angeles and Naples, FL — have embarked on concerted efforts to restrict Stage 2 business jet operations. With respect to Los Angeles, which adopted a "non-addition rule" for certain Stage 2 aircraft at Van Nuys Airport (VNY), NBAA and seven other business aviation entities (including the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the National Air Transportation Association) have filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the legality of the rule and seeking to have it enjoined. With respect to Naples, which has proposed an outright ban on Stage 2 operations effective January 1, 2001, NBAA has filed comments with FAA challenging the methodology and conclusions of the consultants’ report supporting the proposed ban.

Why is the issue of Stage 2 access so important to NBAA? We believe that it is well-recognized in the U.S. that a patchwork quilt of local aviation noise rules would damage the effectiveness and efficiency of the national aviation system. While aviation noise unquestionably has local implications, both environmentally and politically, the issue of access to airports is properly viewed as a national issue, subject to federal standards, particularly since so many airports have received federal grants and subsidies. Moreover, Stage 2 business jets are valuable economic assets, many of which have perhaps as much as 20 years of remaining useful life. For example, there are hundreds of Stage 2 Gulfstream executive jets operating in the U.S.; the combination of mission capabilities and modest prices of these aircraft makes them an important component of the national business aviation fleet.

Prior to 1990, the role of localities in regulating aircraft noise was limited by federal constitutional principles and, at many airports, by federal grant assurances; to the ability of a local airport proprietor to enact only those airport noise and access rules that were reasonable, non-arbitrary, and non-discriminatory; and that would not unduly burden interstate commerce. Any new proposal for local aircraft noise restrictions must still meet these "traditional" standards.
In 1990, Congress enacted the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA), which had two primary components: (1) A phase-out of all transport category Stage 2 aircraft (i.e., aircraft with maximum weight of greater than 75,000 lbs.) in the U.S. by December 31, 1999; and (2) a requirement that any proposed local action restricting airport access by Stage 2 or Stage 3 aircraft be subject to mandatory federal review. Under the procedures set forth by FAA in its regulations implementing ANCA (49 CFR Part 161), a proposed restriction must, generally speaking, be supported by analyses of a number of issues and alternatives and by a benefit/cost study, and must be made available for public comment. Stage 2 restrictions must be submitted to FAA for review, but FAA approval of the restrictions isn’t required. Stage 3 restrictions, by contrast, can’t be implemented unless FAA reviews and then approves them.
As long as transport category Stage 2 aircraft were permitted to operate in the U.S., airport proprietors seemed unwilling to "test the waters" with proposed Stage 2 restrictions. At Van Nuys and Naples, we see such caution being abandoned, inappropriately.

VNY is the busiest general aviation airport in the country and an important center of business aviation activity in Southern California. For some 10 years, complaints by a relatively small group of community activists have led to consideration of proposals to place an arbitrary cap on the number of Stage 2 business jets that can be based at Van Nuys as well as restrictions on the frequency of use of the airport by non-based Stage 2 aircraft. Even though such restrictions were not recommended following a noise compatibility planning study conducted in the early 1990s, and even though two economic studies commissioned by the local airport authority in the late 1990s concluded that such restrictions could not be justified by cost/benefit analysis, the airport authority adopted such restrictions and the Los Angeles City Council recently enacted them.
The non-addition rule would prevent Stage 2 aircraft with certified takeoff noise levels of 77 dBA or higher from being based at VNY for more than 30 days in any calendar year unless they had been based there for at least 90 days during CY1999. Further, the rule would prevent non-based Stage 2 aircraft with such noise levels from being parked, tied-down, or hangared at the airport for more than 30 days in any calendar year (except for visits to the airport for certain specified types of heavy maintenance, overhaul, and warranty work at a maintenance or repair or refurbishment facility located at VNY). A large proportion of Stage 2 business jets operating in the U.S., including all Gulfstream II and III aircraft and most Lear 20 series aircraft, would be affected by this rule.
The Van Nuys situation is somewhat unique because the VNY Stage 2 non-addition rule was originally proposed prior to the adoption of ANCA in 1990 and is therefore viewed by the FAA as exempt from the requirements of ANCA. Thus, Los Angeles was not obligated to perform a Part 161 analysis of the restriction. In our view, the non-addition rule is an artificial capacity restriction rather than a true noise-reduction rule. It is not justified by the noise situation at VNY, is unreasonable and discriminatory, and would unduly burden interstate commerce. NBAA believes that in the process of focusing on its apparent exemption from ANCA, L.A. lost sight of the fact that the "traditional" federal standards still apply to local Stage 2 noise or access restrictions. The lawsuit filed against Los Angeles focuses on the illegality of the non-addition rule under those standards.

Naples, FL, is a community whose airport experiences a large proportion of its use by business aircraft in the winter. Even with that winter use, the cumulative noise at and around the airport is not notably high. The surrounding community has, however, been very vocal and active in trying to limit noisier business jet operations at the airport.
The proposed Stage 2 ban at Naples is the outgrowth of a Part 161 study commissioned by the Naples Airport Authority earlier this year. We believe that Naples is the first local airport authority to submit to FAA for review a completed Part 161 study with respect to a proposed Stage 2 aircraft ban.
Perhaps most importantly, the Naples Part 161 study utilizes a downward deviation from the federal standard for cumulative noise compatibility for residences and other noise-sensitive properties in the vicinity of the airport as the basis for proposed aircraft operational restrictions. Under this federal noise compatibility standard, which has long been used for airport noise compatibility planning purposes, all land uses (including residences, schools, and the like) are considered to be compatible with cumulative noise levels less than 65 Ldn dB. Consistent with this approach, airport noise compatibility planning and noise mitigation measures have generally been designed to reduce or even eliminate the number of incompatible properties within the 65 Ldn dB cumulative noise contour.
While localities have been permitted to identify and map lower-level cumulative noise contours (e.g., 60 Ldn dB, 55 Ldn dB) for purposes of local land use and zoning planning and restrictions, we’re not aware of any localities that have attempted to impose aircraft operational restrictions based on such lower-level contours. The Part 161 study at Naples shows that there are no residential or other incompatible properties within the traditional federal 65 Ldn dB contour. Nevertheless, the communities surrounding Naples Airport have adopted (or are reported to be in the process of adopting) 60 Ldn dB as a local noise compatibility standard, and the proposed Stage 2 ban is being justified in the Part 161 study as a means of reducing noise exposure for those incompatible properties within the 60 Ldn dB contour.
NBAA has submitted comments to the FAA pointing out that a noise contour lower than 65 Ldn dB cannot be used under federal law as the basis for aircraft operational restrictions. We have also submitted an analysis of the Naples Part 161 benefit/cost study performed by GRA, Incorporated, a respected transportation consulting firm, which demonstrates that the methodology and analysis of that benefit/cost study were seriously flawed.
GRA’s analysis reveals that, among other things, the Naples benefit/cost study failed to analyze the benefits that would allegedly be derived from the proposed restriction, failed to consider alternative measures that would not involve aircraft restrictions, and failed to compare the relative benefits and costs of the proposed Stage 2 ban against the benefits and costs of alternative measures. In recently issued comments on the Naples Part 161 benefit/cost study, the FAA cited as deficiencies the failure of the Part 161 study to include appropriate analysis of non-aircraft restrictions and its failure to provide a comparison of the costs and benefits of such alternative measures to the costs and benefits of the proposed restriction.
NBAA recognizes that business aviation must continue to be a good neighbor as well as an engine for economic growth and development. At the same time, NBAA will, when necessary, seek relief in appropriate courts and agencies when reasonable airport access is being denied to business aviation.