Airport Noise Grants: FAA Needs to Better Ensure Project Eligibility and Improve Strategic Goal and Performance Measures

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-09-12.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States Government Accountability Office

GAO              Report to the Committee on Commerce,
                 Science, and Transportation,
                 U.S. Senate

September 2012
                 AIRPORT NOISE
                 FAA Needs to Better
                 Ensure Project
                 Eligibility and
                 Improve Strategic
                 Goal and Performance

                                                 September 2012

                                                 AIRPORT NOISE GRANTS
                                                 FAA Needs to Better Ensure Project Eligibility and
                                                 Improve Strategic Goal and Performance Measures
Highlights of GAO-12-890, a report to
Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, U.S. Senate

Why GAO Did This Study                           What GAO Found
The Federal Aviation Administration              The number of people in the United States exposed to significant airport noise
(FAA) predicts that air traffic in the           has steadily declined from roughly 7 million people in 1975 to about 309,000
United States will increase 20 percent           today. This change reflects large decreases in the size of areas that are exposed
by 2024. If not mitigated, the noise             to significant airport noise and is primarily due to improvements in aircraft
associated with these flights could              technology.
significantly diminish the quality of life
for communities surrounding airports             Since 1982, FAA has provided $5.8 billion in Airport Improvement Program noise
and constrain an airport’s ability to            grants to 481 airports for residential and public building noise insulation and land
expand. Over the last 30 years,                  acquisition, among other project types. The majority of grants went to airports
Congress has provided billions of                that voluntarily undertook Noise Compatibility Programs (NCP). While these
dollars in grants under the Airport              funds benefitted thousands of people, GAO identified two areas of concern
Improvement Program to airports to               regarding FAA’s enforcement of project eligibility criteria that creates a risk that
reduce and mitigate significant noise            some undetermined amount of grant funds may have gone to projects that do not
exposure. FAA’s overall strategic noise          meet FAA’s project eligibility criteria. First, FAA does not always require airports
goal is to reduce the population                 to maintain updated and accurate noise exposure maps to define eligible project
exposed to significant noise to fewer            areas. For example, half of the noise exposure maps—which show the areas
than 300,000 people nationwide.                  around an airport that are exposed to significant airport noise and are a key
At your request, GAO (1) described               element in determining project eligibility—are from the 1990s or earlier. For an
how airport noise exposure has                   airport to receive a noise grant, program criteria generally require that such maps
changed, (2) evaluated noise grant               are updated every 5 years, but nine airports received $87.6 million in grants in
results, and (3) assessed potential              fiscal years 2010 to 2011 based on maps that predate 2000. Second, FAA has
future demand for these grants. GAO              inconsistently implemented requirements that limit residential noise insulation
analyzed FAA data on noise grants,               projects to homes with interior noise levels above an established threshold. In the
planned projects, and population                 absence of FAA enforcement, airports have little incentive to update maps and
exposure and reviewed relevant                   limit residential treatment because doing so might eliminate planned projects
literature. GAO also conducted                   expected by the public. Concurrent to GAO’s review, FAA issued new guidance
interviews with relevant airport and             that should substantially address this risk if effectively implemented. Further, the
FAA officials and industry                       results of noise grants are not linked to FAA’s strategic noise reduction goal and
representatives, as well as visited
                                                 measurement approach. For example, the goal does not include the results of
seven airports that have used noise
                                                 noise insulation of homes and schools. As a result, there is insufficient
grants, judgmentally selected based on
size, location, and other factors.               performance information about the effects of noise grants and the extent to which
                                                 noise exposure remains a constraint on airport growth.
What GAO Recommends                              There has been an increase in the estimated cost of planned noise mitigation
GAO recommends that the Department               projects in FAA’s 2011 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems report to
of Transportation align its strategic            Congress, but a number of indicators point to a future decline in demand for
goal for noise reduction with the results        grants for noise projects. Specifically, the 2011 report, compared to prior reports,
of the noise grant program and                   includes a smaller portion of projects in the most significantly noise-impacted
establish corresponding performance              areas. Further, since the 2001 report, the number of airports planning eligible
measures. The department provided                noise projects is down 16 percent, with about half the number of planned
technical comments and agreed to                 projects. Additionally, fewer airports are developing new noise compatibility
consider the recommendations.                    programs and many of the 234 airports with such programs may be completed.
                                                 For example, 102 of 137 airports with an NCP more than 10 years old received
                                                 no noise grants since 2007, an indication that those airports may have completed
                                                 all eligible projects in those plans. Finally, about a third of the people living in
                                                 significantly noise-impacted areas reside near airports that have not completed,
View GAO-12-890. For more information,
contact Dr. Gerald L. Dillingham at (202) 512-   and may never complete, an NCP, a necessary step before an airport can use
2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov.                     noise grants for residential noise insulation. This population, therefore, may
                                                 never be reached by FAA’s grant program.
                                                                                          United States Government Accountability Office

Letter                                                                                     1
              Background                                                                   3
              Populations Exposed to Significant Airport Noise Have Declined
                Because of Improvements in Aircraft Technology                             9
              FAA Is Taking Steps to Ensure that Projects Meet Eligibility
                Criteria, and FAA’s Strategic Noise Goal Is Not Linked to the
                Noise Grant Program                                                      13
              Airports Continue to Plan Noise Mitigation Projects, but of a
                Changing Nature                                                          27
              Conclusions                                                                35
              Recommendation for Executive Action                                        37
              Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                         37

Appendix I    Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                         39

Appendix II   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                      41

              Table 1: Planned Airport Noise Projects Identified in the National
                       Plan of Integrated Airport Systems since 2001                     28

              Figure 1: Selected Tools Available to Address Airport Noise                  8
              Figure 2: Estimated Population Exposed to Various Airport Noise
                       Levels, 1975 to 2010                                              10
              Figure 3: Examples of Decrease in Size of Areas Exposed to
                       Significant Airport Noise (DNL 65 dB)                             12
              Figure 4: Airport Improvement Program Projects by Funding
                       Category, Fiscal Years 2000 through 2011                          15
              Figure 5: FAA Noise Grants by DNL Range, since Fiscal Year 1982            17
              Figure 6: FAA Noise Grant Beneficiary Goals, Results and Costs,
                       Fiscal Years 2005 through 2011                                    19

              Page i                                          GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 7: Planned Noise Project Estimates by Noise Contour as
         Reported in the National Plan of Integrated Airport
         Systems, 2001 through 2011                                                       30
Figure 8: FAA Approval of Noise Compatibility Programs, 1983 to
         2011                                                                             32


ACIP              Airports Capital Improvement Plan
ADO               Airports District Offices
AEDT              Aviation Environmental Design Tool
AIP               Airport Improvement Program
CNEL              Community Noise Equivalent Level
dB                decibel(s)
DNL               Day-Night Average Sound Level
FAA               Federal Aviation Administration
FICAN             Federal Interagency Committee on Airport Noise
GIS               Geographic Information System
INM                Integrated Noise Model
MAGENTA           Model for Assessing Global Exposure from Noise of
                  Transport Airplanes
NCP               Noise Compatibility Programs
NEPA              National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
NPIAS             National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems
NextGen           Next Generation Air Transportation System
PFC               Passenger Facility Charge
SOAR              System of Airport Reporting
VALE              Voluntary Airport Low Emission

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Page ii                                                   GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548

                                   September 12, 2012

                                   The Honorable John D. Rockefeller IV
                                   The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchinson
                                   Ranking Member
                                   Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
                                   United States Senate

                                   The number of commercial and general aviation flights in the United
                                   States is estimated to increase 20 percent by 2024, according to the
                                   Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). While airports provide access to
                                   transportation for millions of people each day, airport noise—by, for
                                   example, interfering with speech, sleep, and student learning—can
                                   severely diminish quality of life in communities around airports and spur
                                   community objections to airport operations and continued growth. Since
                                   1982, to address and mitigate the problems associated with airport noise,
                                   Congress has provided a dedicated source of funding within the Airport
                                   Improvement Program (AIP) for noise mitigation projects. 1 FAA
                                   administers the AIP, which has provided nearly $5.8 billion in grants since
                                   fiscal year 1982 to sound insulate homes and other buildings near
                                   airports as well as acquire land in, and relocate residents away from,
                                   significantly noise impacted areas, among other noise mitigation
                                   activities. 2 FAA’s 2018 strategic goal for noise is to reduce the residential
                                   population exposed to significant airport noise in the United States to less
                                   than 300,000 people. AIP-funded noise mitigation projects, administered
                                   by airports, are FAA’s primary tool to achieve this goal.

                                   FAA has an ongoing responsibility to balance the growing demand for
                                   aviation capacity against the environmental concerns and effects on
                                   communities caused by airport noise. Aircraft technology, the number of
                                   aircraft operations, and noise levels have changed markedly since FAA
                                   first began providing AIP noise grants. Moreover, the implementation of

                                    Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, Pub. L. No. 97-248, § 508 (d) (2), 96
                                   Stat. 324.
                                    FAA defines significant airport noise as at or above a Day-Night Average Sound Level
                                   (DNL) of 65 decibels (dB). DNL is a generally accepted measure of noise exposure.

                                   Page 1                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) 3 and the
growth in aircraft operations that NextGen investments could spur may
lead to new demand for airport noise mitigation or new noise challenges.
As a result, it is not clear how well the AIP noise grant program will be
able to provide an appropriate and effective tool for addressing changes
in future airport noise exposure. In light of these concerns, you requested
that we examine FAA’s AIP noise grants. Our report addresses the
following questions:

1. How has overall airport noise exposure changed since AIP noise
   grants were first funded?

2. How have AIP noise grants been used by airports to mitigate noise
   and what have these grants achieved?

3. What is the likely future demand for AIP noise grants?

To describe how airport noise exposure has changed over time, we
reviewed available literature; assessed the use of FAA noise models;
interviewed industry, FAA, and airport officials; and, for illustrative
purposes, performed Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis of
changes in the areas exposed to airport noise near several large airports.
To assess how AIP grants have been used by airports for noise mitigation
projects and planning, we analyzed FAA data in the System of Airport
Reporting (SOAR). This database includes detailed information about AIP
grantees, Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) approvals, project types, and
other information. We performed a data reliability assessment of SOAR
that included electronic testing, review of FAA documentation, and
interviews with relevant FAA officials. We found the data to be sufficiently
reliable for our purposes. To assess the likely future demand for AIP
noise grants we compiled and analyzed a range of data from different
sources. Sources included planned projects in the National Plan of
Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), 4 FAA’s main planning tool for
identifying future airport capital projects; data on airports’ Noise
Compatibility Programs (NCPs) and noise exposure maps, both key

 NextGen refers to the transformation of the air transportation system by 2025 from the
current radar-based system, to a more automated aircraft-centered, satellite-based
 The NPIAS may not capture all planned noise mitigation projects that are included in
other airport planning documents, such as environmental approvals.

Page 2                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
             documents for many AIP noise grants; and FAA’s estimates of the
             population exposed to significant airport noise. 5 FAA calculates these
             estimates with models that are broadly used and generally considered
             accurate for the purposes intended. We did not independently assess
             FAA’s models. To illustrate the results of our analysis and better
             understand the real world implementation and future of airport noise
             programs, we reviewed noise programs at seven judgmentally selected
             airports. These airports were selected to represent a range of sizes,
             geographical locations, and use of noise grants. Information gathered
             from these reviews is not generalizable to all airports. We conducted this
             performance audit from October 2011 to September 2012 in accordance
             with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards
             require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate
             evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions
             based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained
             provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on
             our audit objectives.

             Since the late 1950s, noise from aircraft and other airport operations has
Background   generated controversy within many surrounding communities and can be
             a constraint on airport development and aircraft operations. As we have
             previously reported, noise is one of the top environmental concerns at
             airports. 6 Most airports are owned and operated by public authorities,
             such as cities, counties, or port authorities, which have primary
             responsibility for addressing community concerns about noise. The
             federal government has a long history of helping airports address noise
             concerns by, for example, defining how airport noise is measured;
             providing a framework for assessing the impact of noise and for airports
             to plan noise mitigation projects; and funding eligible noise mitigation
             projects. Within this context, airports may undertake a range of noise
             mitigation projects. The federal government has also required the use of

              For the purposes of this report, we used the currently accepted definition of significant
             airport noise (e.g., DNL 65+ dB). The results of our analysis of future demand for noise
             grants would change if the definition of significant airport noise changes in the future.
              GAO, Aviation and the Environment: Impact of Aviation Noise on Communities Presents
             Challenges for Airport Operations and Future Growth of the National Airspace System,
             GAO-08-216T (Washington, D.C.: October 2007); GAO, Aviation and the Environment:
             Systematically Addressing Environmental Impacts and Community Concerns Can Help
             Airports Reduce Project Delay, GAO-10-50 (Washington, D.C.: September 2010).

             Page 3                                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
quieter aircraft technologies. The Aviation Noise and Capacity Act of 1990
required that all commercial jets at civilian airports switch to Stage-3
aircraft by the year 2000. 7 Airlines phased out the loudest aircraft over
time, and by 2000, the U.S. commercial fleet was composed of quieter
aircraft than in the 1990s.

FAA is charged with implementing and enforcing noise regulations for
airports’ noise mitigation efforts, including setting the eligibility standards
to receive federal funding. In 1979, the Aviation Safety and Noise
Abatement Act charged FAA with establishing regulations for noise
compatibility planning. 8 In 1984, FAA promulgated regulations, commonly
referred to as the “Part 150” program, that guide airports’ Noise
Compatibility Programs (NCP). 9 Under these Part 150 regulations, FAA
has adopted Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) as the measure used
for assessing noise. 10 Generally FAA applies DNL 65 dB as the minimum
level for residential properties to be eligible for federally funded noise
mitigation. 11 Airport operators must submit noise exposure maps to the
FAA for review and acceptance before submitting an NCP. These maps
show, among other things, the airport property, runway location(s), flight
paths, DNL noise contours at the 65, 70, and 75 dB levels (and the

 Pub. L. No. 101-508, §9308, 104 Stat. 1388-382 (1990). Federal noise regulations define
aircraft according to 4 classes: Stage-1, Stage-2, Stage-3, and Stage 4. Stage 1 are the
loudest, and Stage 4 are the quietest. All Stage 1 aircraft have been phased out of
commercial operation, and all unmodified Stage 2 aircraft over 75,000 pounds were
phased out at the end of 1999. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Pub. L.
No. 112-95, §506(a), 126 Stat. 11, 105 (2012)) requires the phase out of Stage 2 aircraft
under 75,000 pounds (general aviation aircraft) by the end of 2015.
Pub. L. No. 96-193, §104, 94 Stat. 51 (1980).
14 C.F.R. Part 150. 49 Fed. Reg. 49269, December 18, 1984.
  In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was required to study exposure to
airport noise (.49 U.S.C. § 44715(a)(2)). EPA’s study identified Day-Night Average Sound
Level (DNL) as the appropriate measure for assessing cumulative noise in the airport
environment. DNL is a cumulative sound level in decibels (dB), for the period from
midnight to midnight, obtained after the addition of ten decibels to sound levels for the
periods between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  According to FAA, a lower local standard (e.g., DNL 60 dB) may be used if the standard
is formally adopted by the local jurisdiction for land-use compatibility and the airport
sponsor has incorporated it. See, 49 U.S.C. §47504(c)(2)(B)). Where a compatible land
use plan is adopted outside of the Part 150 process, the land use compatibility plan must
be developed cooperatively by the airport sponsor and local jurisdiction. 49 U.S.C. §

Page 4                                                   GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
incompatible land uses and estimates of the population residing within
those contours), and the location of noise sensitive public buildings, such
as schools, as defined by FAA regulations. 12 For example, residential
development within the DNL 65+ dB contour is deemed incompatible,
whereas commercial and manufacturing development is not because of
the different impacts of noise on people. The NCP documents the noise
mitigation projects the airport proposes to implement and is submitted to
FAA for review and approval. The airport may offer mitigation measures
within incompatible land use areas that meet other eligibility criteria. For
example, a residence located within a DNL 65+ dB area that also has
interior noise levels above DNL 45 dB may receive noise insulation.
Airport participation in the Part 150 process is voluntary. The typical level
of noise in a suburban residential neighborhood that is not near an airport
is about DNL 50 dB and an urban residential area is about DNL 60 dB. 13

FAA administers two programs that fund airports’ capital development
projects, including noise-related projects. With the creation of the AIP in
1982, FAA had a source of funds to provide grants to airports for noise
mitigation projects. Congress reserved a set-aside specifically for noise
projects that is currently funded at no more than $300 million per year, but
has also expanded over time to include other types of environmental
projects including water projects at airports undertaken as a result of an
environmental record of decision for an airport development project and

  Noise Exposure Maps show noise contours surrounding an airport that depict specified
levels of noise and look similar to a land elevation map. The number of operations, runway
orientation and use, the type of aircraft, and time of day (because night operations have a
higher multiple/weight in calculating DNL) are the fundamental drivers of the size and
shape of an airport’s noise contour.
  DNL is a noise descriptor or metric that takes into account the magnitude of the sound
levels of all individual events that occur during a 24-hour period, the number of events,
and an increased sensitivity to noise during typical sleeping hours (between 10:00 p.m.
and 7:00 a.m.) Although FAA requires the use of DNL for airport analyses, it also
promotes the use of supplemental metrics, which according to the Federal Interagency
Committee on Aviation Noise, are also useful in addressing various public noise concerns
and helping the public to further understand airport-related noise impacts.

Page 5                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
certain types of air quality projects. 14 Capital projects in approved NCPs
that meet AIP criteria are eligible for AIP grants. Further, airports can be
awarded AIP noise grants for some types of noise mitigation projects
without an NCP. First, in 2003, AIP noise grant eligibility was temporarily
expanded by permitting FAA to provide grants to state and local
governments for land use compatibility planning and noise mitigation
projects around large and medium hub airports if the airport had not
submitted a Part 150 study or had not updated its NCP for more than 10
years. 15 Second, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA),
as amended, requires federal agencies to examine the potential impacts
associated with a proposed federal action, including potential noise
impacts. As a result, airport development proposals, such as adding new
runways or otherwise expanding capacity, must be reviewed for the
potential environmental effects as fully as technical, economic and other
considerations. Likewise, operational changes, such as changes in flight
paths, may trigger a similar review process, depending on the extent of
the likely noise impact. These reviews may require airports to prepare an
environmental assessment or may require the FAA to prepare an
environmental impact statement which could, in turn, lead to a noise
mitigation project that is eligible for AIP funding. Airports must match AIP

  Pub. L. No. 97-248, §505, 96 Stat. 676 (1982). The AIP is funded by congressional
appropriation from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund which is principally funded by a
variety of excise taxes paid by users of the national airspace system. Under FAA’s current
authorization, 35 percent of the annual AIP discretionary budget, up to $300 million, is
reserved for airport noise mitigation projects, including noise compatibility planning and
implementation of noise compatibility programs, and other approved environmental
projects. The upper limit is a new statutory provision enacted as part of the FAA
Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 49 U.S.C. § 47117(e)(1)(A). Airports that accept
AIP grants for airport development commit to several assurances, include taking steps, to
the extent practicable, to restrict use of land adjacent to airports to activities and purposes
compatible with normal airport operations. 49 U.S.C. 47107.
  In such cases, the airport sponsor must agree and provide necessary documentation.
Vision 100: Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, Pub. L. No. 108-176, § 160(a), 117
Stat. 2511 (2003). This provision was later extended by the FAA Modernization and
Reform Act of 2012 to September 30, 2015. Pub. L. No. 112-95, § 153.

Page 6                                                       GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
grants to varying degrees, depending on an airport’s size. 16 The second
FAA funding program for noise mitigation projects is the Passenger
Facility Charge (PFC) program. 17 This program allows publicly operated
airports to charge passengers a fee and retain these fees for their use on
FAA-approved projects, including those that reduce noise. Project
eligibility criteria for the PFC and AIP programs are largely the same,
although an NCP is not required to use PFC funds for noise mitigation
projects. PFC funds can be used to match AIP grants.

There are a variety of projects and actions to mitigate and reduce airport
noise that airports may use, some of which are eligible for AIP grants.
See figure 1.

  FAA’s authorizing statute categorizes the nation’s primary airports into four main groups
based on the number of passenger enplanements—large hubs, medium hubs, small hubs,
and nonhubs. The categories are based on the number of passengers boarding an aircraft
(enplaned) within the United States. A large hub enplanes at least 1 percent of all
systemwide passengers, a medium hub at least 0.25 but less than 1 percent, a small hub
at least 0.05, but less than 0.25, and a nonhub less than 0.05 percent. See 49 U.S.C. §
47102 (10), (12), and (23) respectively. Historically, noise mitigation projects were eligible
for 80 percent funding under AIP for large- and medium-hub airports, and 90 percent
funding at small, non-hub, general aviation, and reliever airports 49 U.S.C. § 47109.
Between 2004 and 2011, the federal share for smaller airports was temporarily increased
to 95 percent under Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (Pub.L. No. 108-
176), but that increased level expired with the passage of the FAA Modernization and
Reform Act of 2012.
  49 U.S.C. §40117.

Page 7                                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 1: Selected Tools Available to Address Airport Noise

                                          Beginning October 1, 1998, FAA only approves noise mitigation measures for incompatible
                                         development existing as of that date.
                                          FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 allows FAA to provide noise grants for airports to
                                         complete environmental reviews and assessment activities for proposals to implement flight
                                         procedures as part of an airport noise compatibility program (Pub. L. No. 112-95, § 504).

                                         Page 8                                                         GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                         The number of people exposed to airport noise has been steadily
Populations Exposed      declining for several decades, according to FAA. FAA uses a model,
to Significant Airport   called Model for Assessing Global Exposure from Noise of Transport
                         Airplanes (MAGENTA), to calculate a high-level national estimate of the
Noise Have Declined      population exposed to different levels of airport noise. MAGENTA uses,
Because of               among other factors, airport-level information about the number of aircraft
Improvements in          operations, types of aircraft, flight paths, and census data for communities
                         near airports (see sidebar). Individual airports may have, through Part
Aircraft Technology      150 studies or through studies undertaken for NEPA compliance, for
                         example, more precise estimates. FAA estimates that approximately 7
                         million people lived in areas exposed to significant airport noise—DNL 65
                         dB or higher—in 1975. Through the 1980s and 1990s, this exposure
                         declined to less than a million by the year 2000. FAA estimates that about
                         309,000 people currently live in areas at or above DNL 65 dB. FAA
                         estimates also show declines in the populations exposed to non-
                         significant airport noise (i.e., below DNL 65 dB). For example, FAA
                         estimates that between 2000 and 2010 the number of people residing in
                         areas with DNL 60 to 65 dB decreased from about 3 million to 1.5 million
                         (see fig. 2). The downward trend in noise exposure has held relatively
                         steady despite overall increases in air traffic. For example, total U.S.
                         operations—including arrivals and departures—went up from
                         approximately 17.4 million in 2000 to 20.8 million in 2011, though some
                         locations have seen declines.

                         Page 9                                          GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 2: Estimated Population Exposed to Various Airport Noise Levels, 1975 to 2010

                                        Note: Population exposure estimates include residents that have and have not received noise
                                        insulation treatment. Data on DNL 55 dB+ and DNL 60 dB+ were not available for years prior to 2000.

                                        FAA’s model is intended to determine the population living within
                                        geographic areas exposed to airport noise, regardless of whether the
                                        houses or apartments have been sound insulated using AIP, PFC, or
                                        other funds. Consequently, some percentage of the population that FAA
                                        estimates is exposed to DNL 65 dB or higher lives in structures that have
                                        benefited from noise insulation. There are no readily available data to
                                        determine this percentage. Thus, FAA’s model cannot be used to
                                        specifically assess the results of AIP grants.

                                        As with the shrinkage in the populations living in noise-exposed areas,
                                        the geographic areas exposed to significant noise around airports have

                                        Page 10                                                        GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
also generally been shrinking based on multiple recent assessments of
DNL 65 dB noise contours that we, FAA officials, and others have
conducted. 18 Likewise, FAA and airport officials, as well as industry
representatives with whom we spoke generally agreed that the DNL 65
dB noise contours around airports have been shrinking. We did not
perform an overall assessment of the extent of this change because noise
exposure maps are updated at different times at the discretion of
individual airports. At all seven of the airports we examined—including
two airports that have recently added runways—noise contours have
shrunk overall, according to airport officials or our assessments of noise
exposure maps for these airports. 19 For example, at Atlanta-Hartsfield
airport, the DNL 65 dB contour has become smaller since the 1980s
despite a tripling of airport operations. Likewise, at Seattle-Tacoma
International airport, noise contours are substantially smaller today than in
the past. Specifically, the DNL 65 dB contour decreased in area almost
60 percent, from approximately 14 to 6 square miles, from 1998 to 2009.
However, while noise exposed areas have generally become smaller
overall, the shapes of some contours may have changed or shifted over
time, decreasing significant noise exposure in some areas, but also
exposing new areas to significant noise. For example, while the DNL 65
dB area around Los Angeles International airport decreased from
approximately 13 to 11 square miles in total area from 1987 to 2011, the
shape of the contour changed and now includes different communities
(see fig. 3).

  GAO, Aviation and the Environment: Impact of Aviation Noise on Communities Presents
Challenges for Airport Operations and Future Growth of the National Airspace System,
GAO-08-216T (Washington, D.C.: October 2007). Airport Cooperative Research Program,
Aircraft Noise: A Toolkit for Managing Community Expectations, ACRP Report 15
(Washington, D.C.: 2009).
  We examined Atlanta-Hartsfield (ATL), Birmingham-Shuttlesworth (BHM), Burbank
(BUR), King County International – Boeing Field (BFI), Los Angeles International (LAX),
Ontario International (ONT), and Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA). To some extent,
comparing noise contour maps over time is a judgmental process because the methods
and assumptions used in producing maps at different points in time change. For example,
newer maps maybe generated, in part, with data from noise monitors that were not in
place when older maps were made. However, to illustrate a broad trend, we compared the
DNL 65 dB (Community Noise Equivalent Level, or CNEL, in California) contours of
available maps, using Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis when possible.
CNEL, like DNL, is used to characterize average noise levels, but uses a somewhat
different methodology.

Page 11                                                 GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 3: Examples of Decrease in Size of Areas Exposed to Significant Airport Noise (DNL 65 dB)

                                         Improvements in aircraft technology, spurred by federal mandates and
                                         industry actions to reduce aircraft noise levels, have been the largest
                                         contributor to the shrinkage in airport-noise-exposed populations and

                                         Page 12                                              GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                         noise contours. 20 FAA and airport officials we spoke with generally agreed
                         that the phase out of the loudest aircraft—specifically, stage 1 and stage
                         2 aircraft weighing over 75,000 pounds—by 2000 and improved aircraft
                         and engine technology are the most significant factors causing noise
                         contours to shrink. For example, reduced air velocity moving through
                         improved engines has reduced engine noise. Likewise, acoustical liners
                         and improved air flap designs have reduced airframe noise. 21 Other
                         factors that may have contributed to decreased airport noise exposure
                         include the implementation of flight procedures that can, for example,
                         direct air traffic over less populated areas during arrivals and departures.

                         AIP noise grants have been widely used by airports and have provided
FAA Is Taking Steps      noise mitigation to thousands of people. However, in recent years, the
to Ensure that           program has benefited fewer people and FAA has not met its program
                         goals. In light of the shrinking airport noise contours discussed above,
Projects Meet            FAA’s enforcement of grant eligibility criteria—related to noise exposure
Eligibility Criteria,    maps and the assessment of interior residential noise—creates a risk that
and FAA’s Strategic      some noise grants may not have met eligibility criteria, especially in the
                         edges of the noise contour where noise may be below DNL 65 dB. FAA
Noise Goal Is Not        has recently issued guidance to address these areas of grant eligibility
Linked to the Noise      criteria, which if followed should reduce the risk of making ineligible
                         grants. In addition, FAA’s overall strategic goal for its noise-related
Grant Program            activities is not linked to the results of noise grant investments.

Grants Are Widely Used   Since fiscal year 1982, FAA has provided about $5.8 billion in AIP noise
for Noise Insulation     grants to 481 commercial and general aviation airports, reflecting broad
Projects and Land        participation in the program by airports through the program’s history.
                         Specifically, most primary airports have been awarded at least one noise
Acquisition              grant. General aviation airports have received $75 million in grants since
                         fiscal year 1982. Airports that have completed voluntary Part 150 studies
                         and have had an NCP approved by FAA have received the majority of

                           49 U.S.C. § 47528. The importance of technological advancement in reducing airport
                         noise exposure has been comprehensively addressed by the National Academies of
                         Sciences. National Research Council, For Greener Skies: Reducing Environmental
                         Impacts of Aviation (Washington, D.C.: 2002).
                           FAA seeks to achieve source noise reduction through programs such as the Continuous
                         Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program as well as through operational and
                         procedure changes.

                         Page 13                                                 GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
AIP noise grant funding. 22 As of May 2012, 234 airports had an approved
NCP and received grants totaling about $5 billion. 23 Primary commercial
airports account for 168 of the 234 approved plans. Of the remaining 66,
62 are larger general aviation or reliever airports. 24 Additionally, grants
have been awarded to airports and communities outside the Part 150
framework following statutory changes in 2003 that allow for such
grants. 25 During fiscal years 2005 through 2011, grants totaling $336
million have been awarded to 24 airports or communities that do not have
NCPs. These grants went to some of the largest airports in the country.
For example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey secured
$134 million in grants for noise insulation of public buildings—mostly
schools—near Teterboro, Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy airports.

AIP noise grants have funded a range of different types of projects,
reflecting FAA and airport priorities, with noise insulation and land
acquisitions receiving the most support. From fiscal year 2000 through
2011, out of approximately $3.2 billion total, residential and public building
noise insulation projects received approximately $1.7 billion and $456
million, respectively; property acquisition projects received $780 million
(see fig. 4). In addition, since fiscal year 2000, FAA has approved PFC
applications from 73 airports to collect nearly $2 billion for noise mitigation

  As previously discussed, noise grants can be awarded following FAA approval of a Part
150 NCP, agreements that are made pursuant to certain environmental review studies, or
via other statutory provisions that allow certain projects to be funded without Part 150
approvals. FAA’s Office of Airport’s System of Airports Reporting (SOAR), a central data
system, does not track the underlying justification for each grant and airports may have
performed both Part 150 and environmental reviews.
  101 airports have been awarded AIP noise grants for planning purposes, but have not
subsequently been awarded grants for capital projects, such as noise insulation or land
  A primary airport is a commercial airport with more than 10,000 passenger boardings
each year. 49 U.S.C. § 47102(15). A reliever airport is an airport designated by the
Secretary of Transportation to relieve congestion at a commercial airport and provide
general aviation access to the overall community. 49 U.S.C. § 47102(22). A reliever
airport may be publicly or privately-owned.
  Vision 100: Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, Pub. L. No. 108-176, § 160(a), 117
Stat. 2511 (2003)

Page 14                                                  GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 4: Airport Improvement Program Projects by Funding Category, Fiscal Years
2000 through 2011

Note: Other includes various project categories listed above, but FAA data do not specify project-type
funding levels.

The distribution of funds reflects airport priorities and FAA’s project
assessments based on AIP grant-scoring formulas as well as judgmental
considerations. FAA’s grant scoring formula ranks proposed projects in
higher DNL areas above lower DNL areas and at larger airports above
smaller airports. For example, a proposed residential noise insulation
project in the DNL 70-74 dB range would score higher than a project in
the DNL 65-69 dB range, regardless of airport hub size. In addition to
formula scores, FAA made grant award decisions based on judgmental
factors such as input from regional FAA officials—such as FAA’s Airports
division regional offices or Airports District Offices (ADO)—about an
individual airport’s capacity to execute its proposals and consideration of
FAA regional priorities, as well as to meet national priorities. In recent
years, FAA has also considered information on the number of expected
beneficiaries—whether residents, students, or other groups—and
attempted to fund a mix of grants that will meet an annual beneficiary
goal. These beneficiary goals, discussed later in this report, are
measured in the number of people expected to benefit from awarded
grants. The fiscal year 2012 goal was 15,000 people.

Page 15                                                          GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
In the first decades of the program, noise grants largely went to projects
in areas most significantly impacted by airport noise—generally areas
closest to airports—while grants in more recent years have gone to
projects in areas that are less significantly impacted, but still deemed to
be exposed to DNL 65 dB or higher noise levels (see fig. 5). For example,
based on FAA data, all 385 acquisition and noise insulation grants from
fiscal year 1982 through 1991 went to projects in DNL 75 dB or higher
areas. In the last 12 years, as areas of higher noise exposure were
increasingly already addressed, a large majority of grants went to projects
in DNL 65-69 dB areas, the lowest significant noise-level eligible for
grants under the program. 26 Also, most of the grants for planning activities
were awarded in the first half of the program’s history. Specifically,
through fiscal year 2000, FAA awarded 332 planning grants for
approximately $50.3 million. As of 2000, 195 airports had approved
NCPs. Since fiscal year 2000, FAA has awarded 117 grants totaling
approximately $45.5 million for planning. Since 2001, thirty-nine airports
had new NCPs approved by FAA. In some cases, instead of conducting a
Part 150 noise study, airports completed environmental impact
statements for major proposed development that included developing
noise exposure maps that could be used to identify mitigation projects
eligible for AIP noise grants.

  The DNL of these projects refers to the noise level stipulated for the project by the
airport sponsor based on, for example, the noise exposure map and additional
documentation required closer to the date of the grant award.

Page 16                                                     GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 5: FAA Noise Grants by DNL Range, since Fiscal Year 1982

Note: 124 grants totaling $124.6 million did not specify the DNL level of the projects (“noise mitigation
measures”) and are excluded from this analysis.

Consistent with the grant trends discussed above, according to FAA and
airport officials with whom we spoke, planned projects within individual
airport noise programs were prioritized to first address the most noise
impacted areas or specific project types. At all of the seven airports we
visited, officials indicated that they began mitigation efforts with properties
in the noisiest areas that are typically closest to the airport or with
schools. For example, Burbank (Bob Hope) Airport in California first
insulated most of the schools inside the DNL 65 dB contour before
beginning residential noise insulation. At Boeing Field in Seattle,
residences in areas above DNL 70 dB were generally insulated first.
However, airport officials also noted that project selection can also
depend on practical program considerations, not simply noise exposure.
For example, before starting a residential insulation project, the airport
sponsor must identify and sign up homeowners and complete other

Page 17                                                            GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
planning steps—all of which take time—and could lead to noise insulation
of homes in areas with lower noise before homes in higher noise areas
simply because they cleared these steps more quickly.

As part of managing the grant program, FAA sets beneficiary goals for
AIP noise grants and tracks progress towards those goals. Beneficiary
data, assessed annually, are used as part of FAA’s annual budget
justification to Congress. These data aggregate the number of people
who have been—or are expected to be—relocated following acquisitions,
as well as residential and student population soundproofing beneficiaries
as a result of the grants awarded that year. Based on this information,
noise grants have helped reduce or mitigate airport noise exposure for
thousands of people. 27 However, as shown in figure 6, in recent years,
fewer beneficiaries have been reached by these grants, FAA has fallen
short of its beneficiary goals, and results have come at a higher per
beneficiary cost. For example, in fiscal year 2011, the awarded noise
grants benefited 10,913 people, short of the goal of 15,000, at nearly 40
percent higher per beneficiary costs than in fiscal year 2005. FAA officials
explained that these trends are partly attributable to increasing
construction costs due to inflation and more projects in higher cost areas,
such as San Diego and Los Angeles. Finally, as discussed more below,
these results are not reflected in FAA’s overall reporting on the population
exposed to significant airport noise.

  FAA does not collect information on the results of noise mitigation projects that are
funded exclusively with PFC or other local sources of funds. The results FAA reports for
AIP grants include accomplishments that came, in part, because of local matching funds,
such as PFCs.

Page 18                                                  GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 6: FAA Noise Grant Beneficiary Goals, Results and Costs, Fiscal Years 2005
through 2011

Note: Beneficiaries include both residential and student populations that received noise insulation,
relocation, or other benefits. Total Airport Improvement Program noise grants excludes Voluntary
Airport Low Emissions grants that do not provide noise beneficiaries.

AIP noise grants have been the most important source of funding for
noise mitigation projects, but other funding sources have also been used.
Officials representing all seven of the airports we reviewed agreed that
AIP funds were of great importance to their noise mitigation programs and
most stated that, in the absence of these funds, much less, if anything,
would likely have been spent on such projects. For example, Boeing Field
does not collect PFCs, and according to airport officials, its noise
mitigation program is highly dependent on AIP funds. However, many
airports do have other funding sources—primarily PFC funds—that can
be used for noise mitigation projects. According to FAA and airport
officials, PFC funds are most commonly used to provide the local
matching funds required of AIP grantees. For example, officials at five of
the six airports that we reviewed that collect PFCs indicated that PFCs
were used for noise mitigation projects as a match to AIP grants. PFCs
also have been used to supplement AIP funds. FAA officials indicated
that PFC funds may be used to speed up the completion of planned noise

Page 19                                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                           mitigation projects in light of limited availability of AIP grants. However,
                           most officials agreed that projects essential to the continued operations of
                           the airport, such as runway rehabilitation and maintenance, were typically
                           a higher priority for PFCs than noise mitigation projects. FAA’s existing
                           data system does not distinguish between projects that are fully funded
                           using PFCs from those where PFCs are used to match AIP grants or
                           provide supplemental funding.

Outdated Noise Exposure    We found that many of the FAA-accepted maps used to determine project
Maps and Inconsistent      eligibility for noise grants are outdated and could overstate the actual size
Application of Interior    of the DNL 65+ dB areas around airports, putting some federal grant
                           investments at risk of funding projects that do not meet the eligibility
Noise Standards Increase   criteria. Following the passage of the Vision 100 Act in 2003, 28 airports
Risks for Noise Grant      have been required to update noise exposure maps when a change in
Funds                      airport operations would indicate that the maps on file with FAA no longer
                           accurately show the size or shape of the airport’s DNL 65 dB noise
                           contours and relationship to land uses. Federal regulation defines a
                           significant change as a 1.5 decibel increase or decrease in the DNL for a
                           substantial land area exposed to airport noise. Additionally, if the maps on
                           file with FAA are older than 5 years, then the airport must certify that the
                           maps continue to accurately reflect current conditions. 29 FAA officials
                           explained that maps over 5 years old should be periodically reviewed for
                           potential inaccuracies or changed conditions. In light of the general
                           shrinkage in DNL 65 dB contours, some of the FAA-accepted maps are
                           outdated and therefore could be inaccurate:

                           •    Most maps that could be used for noise grant eligibility are more than
                                5 years old. According to FAA data, of the 252 airports that have
                                developed noise exposure maps accepted by FAA, 189 maps are

                             Previously airports had been required to update maps only when there was an increase
                           in the contours that would create a substantial new incompatible land use.
                              Prior to 2003, program criteria indicated that maps should accurately reflect conditions
                           and be revised when changes occurred, but did not require a revised map when changes
                           resulted in decreases in noise exposure. Part 150 requires preparation of “current” and
                           “forecast” condition maps. The current condition map reflects conditions—operations,
                           fleets, etc.—at the time of the study while the forecast condition map uses estimates of
                           conditions at least 5 years in the future. Either map can be used for AIP grant eligibility
                           provided it accurately reflects conditions.

                           Page 20                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
     more than 5 years old. 30 Further, we found 126 airports with maps
     from 1999 or before, predating the phase-out of stage 2 commercial
     aircraft by the year 2000. To the extent that the contours depicted by
     these maps reflect conditions from when these louder aircraft
     operated, the actual noise exposed area today is likely smaller.

•    Many airports with old maps continue to be awarded noise grants for
     residential noise insulation in DNL 65-69 dB designated areas—the
     area that would first drop out of grant eligibility because of shrinking
     noise contours. Of the 28 airports that were awarded noise grants for
     this purpose in 2010 or 2011, 10 have maps from 2000 to 2005. In
     addition, nine of the 126 airports with maps from 1999 or before
     received a total of $87.6 million in grants in fiscal years 2010 and
     2011 for residential insulation projects in the DNL 65-69 dB area of
     the official map.

•    Some airports have produced separate noise maps for reasons
     unrelated to Part 150 noise compatibility planning, such as to meet
     state requirements or for environmental reviews. 31 In some cases,
     these maps indicate that noise-exposed areas have decreased, but
     FAA has not required the airport to update the map used for AIP
     eligibility. For example, Ontario International’s noise mitigation
     program area is currently defined by a map from 1990, but to meet
     state noise requirements, the airport produces quarterly noise
     exposure maps. While the technical details of the FAA-accepted map
     and these quarterly maps differ, preventing exact comparisons, the
     area exposed to significant noise in the more recent maps covers very
     little residential land across a much smaller area than in the 1990
     map. 32 The program has received $25.8 million in grants since fiscal
     year 2007 and has identified $58.4 million in planned AIP-funded
     noise mitigation projects for fiscal years 2013 through 2017.

  18 of the airports that developed noise exposure maps have not developed an NCP,
and as will be discussed later in this report, an airport that no longer intends to request
noise grants may not update its NCP and therefore, its noise maps.
  Noise exposure maps developed as part of environmental reviews can be used for AIP
grant eligibility.
  While the methodologies used to develop noise maps for California’s requirement and
for FAA grant eligibility may differ, both types of maps were developed using FAA’s
Integrated Noise Model. Therefore, each methodology may produce somewhat different
noise contours , but the overall trend in the size of the contour should be similar.

Page 21                                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
These indicators suggest that some risk of funding projects that do not
meet eligibility criteria exists. Without current and accurate noise maps, or
documentation of an alternative project justification, such as
environmental agreements, there is no readily available way to determine
how many, if any, FAA-funded projects did not meet the requirement of
being inside the DNL 65 dB contour at the time of funding, though FAA
officials believe that few, if any, grants have funded projects to date that
do not meet the eligibility criteria. 33

Because an airport has little incentive to update a map that might
overstate noise exposure, as it might disqualify projects planned by the
airport from future grants, it is important that FAA enforce the requirement
that airports maintain appropriately updated or certified noise exposure
maps. As illustrated by the examples above, FAA has not always done
so. For oversight purposes, FAA’s 24 regional and district airports offices
are primarily responsible for assessing the continued accuracy of noise
exposure maps. In our site visits, we found that FAA district officials were
generally informed about noise conditions at airports, potentially obviating
the risk of funding ineligible projects, although we also found examples of
lax enforcement as well. 34 Some local FAA officials we met with said they
had reviewed additional information, such as other noise maps from
environmental reviews, and determined that the requested grants
targeted projects that remained in significantly noise affected areas.
Officials explained during our site visits that these assessments are
partially a judgmental process based on their knowledge of an airport’s
unique circumstances. For example, district officials determined that
Seattle-Tacoma airport did not need to update its noise exposure map
until after the addition of a third runway, a project that involved a
comprehensive environmental review that included developing noise
exposure maps. In this case, as in others we identified during our site
visits, the maps developed as part of this review were used to meet AIP
grant eligibility requirements. However, in our site visits, we found that
each district office made different judgments about when to require an
updated map. In one case, a district office allowed noise maps that were

  The annual data FAA collects on beneficiaries includes DNL designations for the areas
in which individuals reside and, to the extent that some grants went to projects that did not
meet eligibility criteria as discussed previously, beneficiary results would be overstated.
  We did not assess the extent that FAA officials in other districts consulted additional
information in similar circumstances nor did we evaluate FAA’s review of individual grant

Page 22                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
known to be inaccurate to be used in an effort to continue funding an
existing airport’s noise mitigation program. Several airport officials
acknowledged that the maps used in their AIP funded noise program
could overstate current exposure. Some airport officials we spoke with
explained that they were reluctant to update maps when doing so could
limit AIP eligibility for planned projects that the airport has already
promised residents. Airport and FAA officials explained that planned
project areas, as reflected in noise maps, need to be somewhat stable.
They emphasized that while noise exposure is constantly evolving, it
takes time to define a program, receive a grant, enroll people, and then
design and execute projects. According to these officials, planned
projects represent promises to communities, making program stability
important. Changing or canceling planned projects because of decreasing
noise can create public relations problems for airports, especially since
gradual decreases in DNL may be difficult for residents to perceive. In
light of these considerations, airport sponsors are unlikely to limit projects
to only those that clearly meet program criteria without FAA’s insistence.
FAA, however, is responsible as the steward of the program for insuring
that AIP noise mitigation funds only support projects that meet the
program’s eligibility criteria. Because the program has limited funding,
paying for noise mitigation that is no longer needed takes money away
from eligible projects that did not receive funding or from other aviation

Furthermore, program criteria—including regulations and FAA guidance—
require that only homes located in DNL 65 dB areas with interior noise
levels above DNL 45 dB can be approved for noise treatment, with limited
exceptions, such as neighborhood equity. For example, FAA’s principal
guidance on AIP implementation explains that the design goal of
residential noise insulation should be to achieve a noise level of 45
decibels in all habitable rooms; homes with interior noise levels already
below this level should not generally receive noise insulation. 35 This
guidance does not explain the method by which a project sponsor needs
to assess interior noise levels. FAA district officials told us that the only
practical way to determine interior noise levels is with testing. FAA

  Homes that are below DNL 45 dB can be treated with some insulation to assure
conformity of improvements and perceived equity of application in the project
neighborhood. Additionally, within the airport industry, there is some disagreement and
confusion about whether the 45 DNL noise level is a design goal or a grant eligibility

Page 23                                                   GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
officials indicated that airport sponsors generally conduct interior noise
testing on a sample of homes to determine eligibility based on the 45 dB
criterion and to assist in designing acoustical treatments, but
acknowledged that not all airports and consultants were consistently
applying these rules. We found that interior noise assessments to
determine project eligibility had been conducted at only three of the six
airports we visited with residential noise insulation programs. Two of the
three airports tested samples of homes, and officials at one of these
airports noted that, to date, no homes have been excluded based on
testing results because all had tested above DNL 45 dB. The third
airport’s program included interior noise assessment for all homes in the
DNL 65-69 dB contour to determine eligibility prior to including a home in
the insulation program. In that program’s current phase—focused on
homes in the DNL 65-69 dB contour in the airport’s noise exposure
map—less than half of the homes qualified for insulation following testing.
We also found that testing protocols differed at these three airports. For
example, some tests used artificial noise to simulate aircraft noise while
other test procedures relied on actual flyovers. The other three airports
we visited did not conduct interior noise assessments for eligibility, but did
do some testing for project design purposes. However, without
information on testing practices at all airports performing residential noise
insulation, we cannot determine the extent of the risk to federal
investments or how much, if any, AIP noise grant funding has gone to
projects that did not meet the eligibility criteria.

Residential noise insulation projects may not have been limited to
residences that have interior noise levels above DNL 45 dB because FAA
has not consistently and routinely implemented criteria on interior noise
level assessment. These criteria do not delineate requirements and
protocols in detail. FAA officials explained that implementation has been
inconsistent because airport officials, airport consultants, and FAA district
officials have different interpretations of existing program criteria. FAA
guidance did not, for example, specify testing protocols fully. Further, as
with updating noise maps, there are disincentives for airports to rigorously
implement existing criteria. For example, as a result of assessments
some residents may not receive expected benefits, such as acoustical
doors, windows, and ventilation systems. Airport officials often have to
deal with community discontent when they explain why some residents
are eligible for noise insulation and others are not.

At the time of our review, FAA, recognizing concerns about the age of
noise exposure maps and the inconsistent implementation of interior
testing criteria, issued program guidance in August 2012 to clarify existing

Page 24                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                           requirements regarding noise mitigation. 36 According to FAA officials, the
                           guidance reinforces existing criteria on grant eligibility regarding the age
                           and accuracy of noise exposure maps and clarifies the DNL 45 dB interior
                           noise eligibility criteria. The guidance also addresses how interior noise
                           should be measured and will provide for a 3-year transition period that will
                           allow airports to continue with promised noise mitigation projects while
                           better aligning projects slated for 2014 and beyond with the eligibility
                           criteria. It is unclear whether FAA will fund projects during the transition
                           period that do not demonstrably meet program eligibility criteria. FAA
                           previously identified similar concerns about fund use and issued clarifying
                           guidance. Namely, the problems we found regarding potentially
                           inaccurate and old noise exposure maps were also identified in a 2002
                           internal FAA study. 37 Specifically, the study found that in fiscal years 2000
                           and 2001, grants were provided to airports based on potentially
                           inaccurate maps from the 1980s and early 1990s that pre-dated the
                           stage-2 aircraft phase-out. The study indicated that, because of shrinking
                           contours, some grants may have funded projects in moderately noise
                           impacted areas (DNL 55 to 64 dB) that should not have been funded. To
                           address this issue, in 2003, and again in 2005, FAA issued program
                           guidance requiring that all grant decisions be based on noise exposure
                           maps that are less than 5 years old or otherwise certified as a reasonable
                           representation of conditions at the airport. Therefore, it will be important
                           that FAA enforce and its district offices adhere to the new guidance to
                           ensure that noise grants are both eligible and targeted to the highest

FAA’s Strategic Goal for   FAA has established an overall agency goal for addressing airport
Noise Reduction Is Not     noise—which covers all noise-related agency efforts, not just the AIP
Linked to Noise Grant      noise grant program—to reduce the population living in significantly noise
                           impacted areas to below 300,000 people nationwide by 2018. 38 This goal

                             Program Guidance Letter 12-09, AIP Eligibility and Justification Requirements for Noise
                           Insulation Projects (Aug. 17, 2012)
                             Federal Aviation Administration, “Evaluation of Noise Set Aside Portion of the Airport
                           Improvement Program,” (Oct. 1, 2002).
                             This agency goal is defined as residential populations living in DNL 65+ dB areas. As
                           discussed earlier, the declining trend in the population exposed to significant airport noise
                           are largely attributable to quieter aircraft that result in smaller noise exposure contours.
                           Current exposure is estimated at about 309,000.

                           Page 25                                                     GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
is articulated in the Department of Transportation’s fiscal year 2013
performance plan, FAA’s long-range strategic plan—Destination 2025—
and other FAA performance documentation. The intended outcome of
reaching this goal is to ameliorate community noise concerns such that
they are not a constraint on airport growth. To achieve this goal and
outcome, the department and FAA have indicated that people still
exposed to significant airport noise levels shall be addressed by AIP
noise grants, FAA’s largest program to address airport noise, primarily
though airport-specific Noise Compatibility Programs.

However, the overall strategic goal is not linked to the results of the AIP
noise grants. We have previously reported that linking program
performance to overall goals can provide a clear, direct understanding of
how program results will lead to the achievement of goals. We have also
reported that to determine whether goals are met, an agency should
establish performance measures that gauge progress toward desired
outcomes and can be used as a basis for decision making. 39 However,
with the exception of AIP-funded land acquisition and relocation projects,
the types of projects funded by AIP noise grants are not intended to lower
the number of people living in significantly noise-impacted areas, but
rather mitigate the negative impacts of airport noise exposure. 40 In other
words, noise grant results will not help the agency achieve its goal, as
articulated. Further, by articulating its goal strictly in terms of the
residential population exposed to significant airport noise, FAA has
established a strategic goal that does not account for the results of its
largest noise program. Specifically, neither the goal nor FAA’s use of the
MAGENTA tool to measure progress toward that goal by estimating the
population exposed to different levels of airport noise reflects AIP noise
grant results:

  GAO, Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and
Results Act, GAO/GGD-96-118 (Washington, D.C.: June 1996).
  Through 2005, FAA monitoring of progress towards its strategic goal—namely, annual
estimates of the population exposed to significant airport noise using the MAGENTA
model—did include population decreases because of noise grant funded acquisition and
relocation projects, but these results have not been included in estimates since 2005
because of an administrative error. FAA is currently taking steps to account for relocated
populations into estimates again, but expects doing so will lower the overall population
estimate only slightly.

Page 26                                                    GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                        •   The residential population goal and associated annual estimates of
                            population exposure do not take into account the number of residents
                            benefiting from AIP-funded acoustically treated homes. While these
                            residents continue to live in a noise impacted area, they do so in a
                            quieter home that has benefited from AIP-funded mitigation.

                        •   The goal and measure also do not account for student or other
                            populations using public buildings that may be affected by airport
                            noise and could benefit from the AIP grant program in the future.

                        As a result of establishing a strategic goal and a corresponding measure
                        of progress that do not account for AIP noise grants results, there is
                        insufficient performance information about the nature and extent of
                        remaining airport noise exposure and the contribution of noise grants in
                        mitigating the impact of that exposure. Specifically, FAA does not know
                        how many residences, schools, or other public buildings are in
                        significantly noise exposed areas or which of those have yet to benefit
                        from noise insulation projects. Without this information, Congress and
                        FAA program managers cannot make fully informed decisions about what
                        the noise grant program can reasonably be expected to address in the
                        future and the extent to which noise exposure remains a constraint on
                        growth. FAA officials acknowledged that the current approach could
                        cause confusion and that there may be some benefit to better
                        distinguishing between the agency’s overall noise goal and the purpose of
                        noise grants.

                        The 2011 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) report,
Airports Continue to    which includes airport projects from fiscal years 2011 through 2015,
Plan Noise Mitigation   shows continued plans for noise mitigation projects, but a drop in the
                        number of projects and the number of airports planning them.
Projects, but of a      Additionally, since the 2001 NPIAS report, the nature of included projects
Changing Nature         has changed, reflecting airports’ progress in implementing their noise
                        compatibility programs, and a corresponding drop in the residential
                        population living in areas around airports deemed significantly affected by
                        noise. The change in the nature and extent of noise mitigation projects in
                        the NPIAS combined with other indicators—such as the age of NCPs,
                        shrinking noise contours, and other factors—points to the possibility of a
                        future decline in the demand for noise project funding. Concurrently, the
                        scope of projects eligible for the set-aside has expanded to include water
                        and emissions projects, whose cost may grow in the future.

                        Page 27                                         GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Planned Noise Mitigation   The NPIAS, which inventories airport projects planned over the next 5
Project Demand             years, is one indicator of future noise grant demand. 41 The most recent
                           NPIAS, issued in 2011, illustrates that, as compared to previous years,
                           fewer airports are planning fewer noise mitigation projects, albeit at a
                           higher total cost. The 2011 NPIAS report to Congress includes planned
                           AIP-eligible projects. The number of airports with planned AIP noise
                           mitigation projects has declined 16 percent since the 2001 report, which
                           covered fiscal years 2001 through 2005, and the number of planned noise
                           projects included in the 2011 NPIAS is nearly half what it was in 2001
                           NPIAS. 42 Despite the decreased number of planned projects, the
                           anticipated costs for those projects rose to $2.1 billion, or roughly $425
                           million per year. 43 Table 1 shows the number and estimated costs of
                           planned projects at airports as reported through the NPIAS since 2001.

                           Table 1: Planned Airport Noise Projects Identified in the National Plan of Integrated
                           Airport Systems since 2001

                                                               Airports with (and number           Planned noise projects
                            NPIAS report                                of) noise projects     estimated cost (in millions)
                            2001-2005                                           104 (369)                           $ 1,400
                            2005-2009                                            88 (283)                            1,426
                            2007-2011                                            91 (178)                            1,581
                            2009-2013                                            93 (187)                            2,007
                            2011-2015                                            87 (188)                            2,124
                           Source: GAO analysis of FAA data.

                           The nature of the projects in the most recent NPIAS has changed to focus
                           more on projects designated to be in DNL 65-69 dB contours; the total

                             As a planning document, the NPIAS does not reflect the agency’s investment priorities.
                           FAA prioritizes projects through its Airports Capital Improvement Plan (ACIP) which is
                           compiled based on information prepared by regional offices. The project priority ranking
                           included in the ACIP incorporates an airport’s size, the purpose of a project (such as
                           insulating homes) and the specific types of efforts (such as insulating homes in the DNL
                           65 dB contour).
                             Since the 2007 NPIAS report, individual projects have been grouped together as part of
                           a bigger multi-phased project that had previously been counted individually. The change
                           may have contributed to apparent decreases in the number of projects.
                             These cost estimates are obtained from airport master plans and state system plans,
                           and includes only AIP-eligible projects to be undertaken by airport sponsors. Cost
                           estimates also don’t include contingency costs or normal price escalation.

                           Page 28                                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
estimated planned costs for mitigation inside DNL 70-74 dB contours has
dropped, and there are no projects for land acquisition or noise insulation
inside the DNL 75 dB contour. As discussed earlier, airports generally
began with projects in the loudest contour, and the changes reflected in
the NPIAS suggest that some airports have completed projects in those
contours and are now focusing on projects in areas further away from the
airport. In fact, the vast majority of noise-related projects identified in the
2011 plan are focused on the further away DNL 65-69 dB contour—the
contour with the lowest noise exposure that is considered significant
under federal guidelines and still meets eligibility criteria. 44 This shift of
focus may partly explain why the most recent NPIAS has a higher total
cost because contours further away from an airport tend to cover larger
geographic areas and more homes, though increases in construction
costs and other factors likely contribute as well. Figure 7 below shows the
change in planned noise mitigation projects as reflected in the NPIAS.

  Future demand for noise grants would change if the definition of significant airport noise
were to change in the future. FAA, in collaboration with the Federal Interagency
Committee on Airport Noise (FICAN) is currently researching whether DNL 65 dB remains
the most appropriate measure for assessing airport noise exposure and, as a result of this
research, may adopt a different definition of significant airport noise. If this criterion were
lowered, then the number of projects eligible for AIP noise grants would likely increase.
Our analysis did not assess possible future demand scenarios should this definition

Page 29                                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                      Figure 7: Planned Noise Project Estimates by Noise Contour as Reported in the
                      National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, 2001 through 2011

                       No NPIAS was prepared for 2003-2007 because of delays associated with September 11th terrorist
                      attacks and other factors. FAA continued to make AIP noise grants during these years as usual.

Noise Compatibility   The status of projects in existing NCPs is also an indicator of future noise
Programs              grant demand and shows potentially lower future demand. Our analysis
                      determined that 102 of 137 airports with NCPs more than 10 years old
                      received no noise grants since fiscal year 2007 and that only 22 of these
                      137 airports have noise mitigation projects in the 2011 NPIAS, an
                      indication that some of these airports may have completed all of their AIP
                      eligible noise mitigation projects. For several reasons, we could not fully
                      assess the number of outstanding noise mitigation projects that are
                      included in airports’ NCPs and that airports intend to seek noise grants for

                      Page 30                                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
in the future. 45 However, some airports are nearing the end of their
programs. For example, we were told by officials at 4 of the 7 airports that
we reviewed that they anticipate completing their noise compatibility
programs within about 3 years. At those airports without NCPs, some
anticipate completing their public building insulation efforts in the near
future. For example, officials from the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey indicated that they expect to complete the school insulation
program around their airports within about 3 years.

Furthermore, airports have developed fewer new or updated NCPs in
recent years, suggesting that future demand for noise grants may be
waning as existing programs mature. As noted previously, since AIP
noise grants were established in the early 1980s, FAA has approved
NCPs for 234 airports and inclusion in an NCP is a prerequisite for AIP
funding, with limited exceptions. About 85 percent (198 of 234) of the
airports’ NCPs were approved more than a decade ago, and since 2007,
only 14 new ones have been approved (see fig. 8).

  Although the NCP sets forth an airport’s plan to address noise, FAA does not centrally
track the funding or completion status of those projects. In addition, because of the
program’s voluntary nature, airports are not compelled to complete all projects listed in its
NCP. An airport’s needs or priorities, for example, may change, which could result in
some items being excluded from or added to its noise program. And even if an airport still
intends to seek noise grants to fund listed projects, FAA is not obligated to fund projects
via AIP.

Page 31                                                     GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Figure 8: FAA Approval of Noise Compatibility Programs, 1983 to 2011

                                        Some communities around airports that are exposed to significant airport
                                        noise are not likely to receive residential noise insulation. Airports are free
                                        to choose not to perform residential noise insulation projects because
                                        developing an NCP—a necessary step for the airport to take to receive
                                        AIP funds for such projects—is voluntary. According to FAA and as would
                                        be expected, 30 years into a voluntary program, airports that are likely to
                                        pursue AIP-funded residential noise insulation programs have likely
                                        already at least begun to do so. Some of the busiest airports in highly
                                        populated areas have chosen not to complete an NCP. For example,
                                        officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey indicated
                                        that they have not conducted Part 150 studies for any of the five airports
                                        under their jurisdiction because a residential noise insulation program
                                        would not alleviate noise exposure when people are outside their
                                        homes—they noted that noise complaints peak in the summer—and AIP’s
                                        grant-matching requirements would be financially prohibitive. To the
                                        extent that airports without NCPs continue not to participate in the Part
                                        150 program, the people living in areas significantly impacted by airport

                                        Page 32                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                         noise may never receive the benefits of noise mitigation. 46 This population
                         is about a third of the remaining population that FAA’s MAGENTA model
                         estimated is exposed to significant airport noise. Specifically, in 2010, the
                         model estimated 113,000 people (out of 323,000) lived near airports that
                         had not developed an NCP, though this population is not monitored as
                         part of FAA’s strategic goal and measurement approach discussed

                         Given the shrinkage of noise contours previously discussed, it is possible
                         that if airports updated older NCPs and noise exposure maps, some
                         noise projects in the current NPIAS—which reflects projects in NCPs—
                         would no longer meet grant eligibility criteria. These smaller noise
                         contours would also reflect that the residential population within areas
                         significantly impacted by noise has fallen dramatically. While there is no
                         way to determine how many planned projects—and the costs of those
                         projects—would no longer meet the grant eligibility criteria, the 2011
                         NPIAS includes planned projects in areas designated as DNL 65-69 dB at
                         61 airports. Eighteen of these 61 airports have over $770 million in
                         projects even though their noise exposure maps are more than 10 years
                         old; as noted previously, these maps are likely to overstate current noise
                         exposure and funding to these projects could put federal investments at
                         risk. 47 Together, smaller contours and fewer noise impacted populations,
                         if sustained, suggest that projects approved under updated NCPs could
                         tend to be smaller in scale and scope.

Technology and NextGen   Future changes in aircraft noise and the ongoing implementation of
                         NextGen, could factor into future demand levels for AIP noise grants. FAA
                         and the aviation industry expect aircraft noise levels to continue to fall
                         with ongoing technological and operational advancements. Manufacturers
                         continue to work to provide quieter engines for aircraft and to address
                         noise produced by airframes. In addition, as NextGen is implemented,
                         FAA is making an effort to incorporate changes that will not only improve
                         the efficiency of the system, but also provide for quieter operations. FAA

                           FAA can provide grants directly to communities around medium and large hub airports
                         where airports have not established an NCP, or where an NCP has not been updated in
                         10 years. 49 USC § 47141.
                           Some of these 18 airports may have other noise exposure maps that are more recent
                         because of, for example, an environmental assessment. FAA data would not include these

                         Page 33                                                GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                            anticipates that there will be noise exposure reduction benefits resulting
                            from the implementation of some operational changes, such as flight
                            procedures. For example, new arrival procedures will involve less engine
                            thrust, and thus result in quieter approaches. But even with these
                            benefits, changes in flight paths will affect populations that had previously
                            been subjected to less aircraft noise or less concentrated flight paths.
                            This impact, however, would generally remain outside the DNL 65 dB
                            contour and, unless the minimum eligible DNL were lowered, would not
                            affect grant demand. FAA has not yet determined the extent of the impact
                            of such operational changes on airport noise, and whether or how they
                            might change noise contours or lower noise exposure around an airport.
                            In contrast, the increases in air traffic predicted in the next decade,
                            particularly at airports near large, densely populated urban areas, could
                            result in recently contracted noise contours growing larger, which could
                            offset, to some unknown degree, advancements in technology and
                            operations. However, if noise contours reverse course and begin to
                            expand, some of that expansion could be into areas that already have
                            been remediated through previous noise mitigation efforts. In such cases,
                            newly eligible noise mitigation projects would not result. Conversely, new
                            incompatible land uses created by subsequent airport development or
                            operational changes may be eligible for funding consideration.

Noise Mitigation Projects   In the future, more types of environmental projects will be competing for
Will Compete with Other     the same amount of AIP noise grant funds. The amount of funding
Projects for Noise Grants   available for noise grants is established by Congress. Recently, Congress
                            has expanded the eligibility for noise set-aside funding to projects not
                            directly related to noise, a change that has effectively decreased the
                            funding available for noise programs in recent years. In addition, the
                            Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) program, which was designed to
                            reduce ground sources of emissions at commercial service airports
                            located in areas failing to meet or maintain EPA ambient air quality
                            standards, became eligible for noise grant funding in fiscal year 2005. 48
                            Under the VALE program, FAA made 51 grants during fiscal years 2005
                            to 2011 totaling $108.5 million at 30 airports. The 2011 NPIAS identifies
                            plans for $87.9 million in VALE projects at 11 airports through fiscal year
                            2015 (about 4 percent of the estimated cost of all AIP eligible noise

                              GAO, Aviation and the Environment: Initial Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program
                            Projects Reduce Emissions and FAA Plans to Assess the Program’s Overall Performance
                            as Participation Increases, GAO-09-37 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 7, 2008).

                            Page 34                                               GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
              mitigation projects listed in the report). FAA airport district office officials,
              as well as airport officials we interviewed, indicated that VALE projects
              will continue to be pursued in the future. In addition to VALE, the 2012
              FAA reauthorization expanded eligibility for certain water projects at
              airports undertaken as a result of an environmental record of decision for
              an airport development project, such as a runway extension. 49 FAA has
              not estimated future demand for VALE. And because the water project
              eligibility is new, no such projects appeared in the 2011 NPIAS report and
              FAA has yet to determine how these projects would be ranked against
              VALE and noise mitigation projects. Therefore, it is not clear how
              expanded eligibility for these other kinds of projects for AIP noise set-
              aside grant funds may affect FAA’s ability to meet future noise grant

              Today, the number of people in the United States who are exposed to
Conclusions   significant airport noise is considerably reduced from when FAA began
              providing AIP noise grants in the early 1980s. Overall, the program has
              benefited thousands of people over the years by mitigating airport noise—
              one of the top environmental concern of airports. However, in the
              decades since the AIP noise grant program began, airports have
              completed numerous noise mitigation projects and technology has
              produced quieter aircraft and better operating procedures. Our review
              shows that, now and going forward, the need for noise grants may be
              lower than it was in the past. It is up to FAA to ensure that

              •     future noise grants are directed to the remaining projects that meet
                    the grant eligibility criteria,

              •     the agency’s goal for addressing airport noise aligns with the current
                    airport noise problem, and

              •     the measures used to assess progress accurately reflect FAA’s
                    programmatic results.

              As implemented, there is a risk that some federal investments in noise
              mitigation went to projects that may not have met existing eligibility
              criteria, and if not effectively addressed, this risk will continue in the

                  Pub. L. No. 112-95, §145, 126 Stat. 11, 30 (2012).

              Page 35                                                  GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
future. FAA has not uniformly enforced the accuracy of noise exposure
maps and has inconsistently applied program criteria for interior noise
assessments. This diminishes Congress’s and the public’s assurance that
federal funding has been or will be spent appropriately and, to the extent
that some misapplication of AIP grants to projects has occurred, creates
the risk that more meritorious projects at other airports may not have
been funded. It is encouraging that FAA issued guidance to more clearly
articulate the program’s eligibility criteria and has called upon airports to
review their noise programs to better ensure the eligibility of planned
projects. If properly implemented and followed, this guidance should
reduce the risk of federal investment in ineligible projects. However, since
some of these problems have persisted despite previous FAA guidance, it
is too soon to tell if FAA’s current actions will be successful.

Currently, FAA’s overall goal for its noise efforts is to reduce the
population exposed to airport noise above DNL 65 dB to less than
300,000 people by 2018 and FAA measures progress by estimating the
residential population exposed to this noise level. However, there are
shortcomings to this approach. First, FAA’s overall goal is disconnected
from FAA’s primary tool to address noise—the AIP noise grants—
because it does not reflect the results of these grants. Beneficiaries of
noise insulation projects continue to reside or attend school in DNL 65 dB
or louder areas even though the noise exposure has been mitigated for
them. Second, approximately one-third of the estimated remaining
population exposed to significant airport noise resides near airports that
have yet to and may never establish an NCP. After 30 years, it appears
unlikely that this population will ever be reached by the current program.
FAA’s strategic goal and measures do not account for this population. To
more effectively manage the program and target federal funds, goals and
metrics should align with the nature and extent of the remaining airport
noise problem. At present, however, the nature and extent of the
remaining airport noise problem are ill-defined. Key steps to effectively
address airport noise include

•   understanding the nature and extent of the current problem,

•   determining appropriate goals to address the problem,

•   establishing metrics to measure progress, and

•   using this information for decision making.

Page 36                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
                     Effective program management should increase the effectiveness of the
                     current grant program and provide a more complete picture of noise grant
                     results. Though a number of airports continue to have planned noise
                     mitigation projects, after 30 years of funding noise grants, it is reasonable
                     to question whether the program may remain relevant for only a limited
                     period in the future or need to be reformed to better target emerging
                     needs. Increased knowledge about the problem and the use of noise
                     grants as a solution should help Congress and FAA chart the most
                     appropriate course for the future of the AIP noise program.

                     To better ensure that federal investments effectively address the
Recommendation for   remaining airport noise problem and to more fully demonstrate the results
Executive Action     of AIP noise grants, the Secretary of Transportation should direct FAA to
                     take the following two actions:

                     •   Establish a strategic noise reduction goal that aligns with the nature
                         and extent of airport noise and targets the agency’s noise grant

                     •   Establish performance measures to assess progress toward this goal
                         that better demonstrate the results of the program and provide
                         Congress and FAA’s program managers with information to gauge
                         progress and make programmatic decisions.

                     We provided a draft of this report to the Department of Transportation
Agency Comments      (DOT) for its review and comment. DOT and FAA officials provided
and Our Evaluation   technical comments that we incorporated as appropriate. In addition, in
                     emailed comments to us, DOT offered several observations on our report.
                     First, DOT highlighted that the noise grant program is not the only means
                     by which airport noise has been reduced, noting that other FAA initiatives
                     and industry actions, especially those that led to improvements in aircraft
                     engine technology are primarily responsible for airport noise reductions.
                     We concur with this position but, as indicated in the report, the noise
                     grant program is the largest FAA expenditure to address noise. Second,
                     DOT officials stated their belief that noise grants only go to projects that
                     meet eligibility criteria unless otherwise justified. However, as noted in our
                     report, in light of the overall decline in airport noise, the age and potential
                     inaccuracy of some noise exposure maps, and FAA’s inconsistent
                     implementation of eligibility standards, we believe there is an increased
                     risk for noise grants and have noted the limited circumstances under

                     Page 37                                           GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
which grants can be made to projects that don’t meet these criteria. FAA’s
recent issuance of guidance clarifying eligibility criteria is commendable
and needed because, if properly implemented, it will address this risk.
Finally, DOT noted that FAA sets annual beneficiary targets for noise
grants, tracks progress toward these targets, and reports these results to
Congress. We acknowledged these actions in our report, but these
targets, results, and reporting are not linked to FAA’s strategic noise goal
and measurement approach nor are they included in FAA’s reporting on
progress toward that strategic goal. Without a linkage between the results
of FAA’s most costly program to address noise and FAA’s strategic goal
for addressing noise, Congress, FAA, and the taxpayers do not have
sufficient information on the value of these continued investments.

FAA reviewed our recommendations and agreed to consider them for

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of the Department
of Transportation, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation
Administration, and appropriate congressional committees. This report is
also available at no charge on the GAO website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov. Contact points for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on
the last page of this report. GAO staff who made major contributions to
this report are listed in appendix II.

Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D.
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues

Page 38                                         GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and


              This report addresses the following objectives: (1) how airports’ noise
              exposure has changed since federal noise grants were first funded, (2)
              how Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants have been used by
              airports to mitigate noise and what have these grants achieved, and (3)
              the likely future demand for AIP noise set-aside grants.

              To describe how airport noise exposure has changed over time, we
              reviewed available literature and met with industry organizations. For the
              purposes of this report, we used the currently accepted definition of
              significant airport noise (e.g., DNL 65+ dB). We interviewed officials from
              the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Airports and the
              Office of Policy, International Affairs and Environment at FAA
              Headquarters, and at 4 Airport District Offices in 3 of 7 FAA regions. We
              also performed a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis of noise
              contours at selected airports to illustrate the changes to areas exposed to
              airport noise over time. To assess how the population exposed to noise
              has changed over time, we obtained information from FAA’s MAGENTA
              noise model. We did not independently assess the MAGENTA model
              itself. FAA uses this model to estimate the population exposed to
              significant airport noise. The MAGENTA estimates for noise exposure are
              broadly used and generally considered accurate for the purposes

              To assess how AIP grants have been used for noise project planning and
              implementation, we obtained and analyzed data in FAA’s System of
              Airport Reporting (SOAR). This database includes detailed information
              about AIP grants, Passenger Facility Change (PFC) approvals, project
              types, and other airport information. We assessed the reliability of SOAR
              data by (1) performing electronic testing of required data elements, (2)
              reviewing existing information about the data and the systems that
              produced them, and (3) interviewing agency officials knowledgeable
              about the data. We determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for
              the purposes of this report. We met with sponsors of 7 airports in three
              regions to discuss the development and implementation of their noise
              compatibility programs. These airports were judgmentally selected to
              provide information from airports of different sizes, different parts of the
              country, and at different points in implementing their noise projects.
              Information obtained from these airports is for illustrative purposes only,
              and cannot be generalized for all airports. To understand how the results
              of AIP noise grants have contributed to FAA’s progress towards achieving

              Page 39                                         GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and

its strategic noise goal, we assessed FAA’s use of its MAGENTA noise
model compared to GAO criteria. 1

To assess future demand for AIP noise grants, we reviewed planned
projects in the National Plan for Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS),
FAA’s primary tool for identifying potential airport capital projects. The
NPIAS data is part of FAA’s SOAR reporting system. We also obtained
information about the dates of airports’ Noise Compatibility Programs
(NCPs) and noise exposure maps from the Office of Airports at FAA
Headquarters. For the purposes of this report, we used the currently
accepted definition of significant airport noise (e.g., DNL 65+ dB)—as
does the NPIAS—to identify potential future noise projects. The results of
our analysis of future demand for noise grants would change if the
definition of significant airport noise changes in the future. To understand
the implementation and future of airport noise programs, we reviewed
noise programs at the 7 airports indicated above and discussed them with
the 4 Airports District Offices which oversee those airports.

We conducted this performance audit from October 2011 through
September 2012 in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the
audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We
believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

 GAO, Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and
Results Act, GAO/GGD-96-118 (Washington, D.C.: June 1996).

Page 40                                              GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff


                  Gerald L. Dillingham, Ph.D. (202) 512-2834 or dillinghamg@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the individual named above Paul Aussendorf (Assistant
Staff             Director), Amy Abramowitz, Hiwotte Amare, Elizabeth Curda, Jeff Heit,
Acknowledgments   Dave Hooper, Christopher Jones, Delwen Jones, John Mingus, SaraAnn
                  Moessbauer, Josh Ormond, and John Stambaugh made significant
                  contributions to this report.

                  Page 41                                      GAO-12-890 Airport Noise Grants
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