Issues That Need to Be Considered in Formulating Strategies to Reduce Aviation Noise

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-09-27.

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

                               United States General Accountinfl Ofllce /q 2 32 b                              1 ’ ‘-

    GAO                        Testimony


    For Release                Issues  That         Need to Be Considered
    on Delivery                In Formulating           Strategies to
    Expected    at
                               Reduce    Aviation       Noise
    I:30   p.m.   EDT
    September     27,   1990

                               Statement    by
                               Kenneth    M. Mead
                               Director,    Transportation            Issues
                               Resources,    Community,         and     Economic
                               Development     Division

                               Before    the
                               Subcommittee     on Transportation,                 Aviation
                                  and Materials
                               Committee     on Science,    Space         and      Technology
                               House of Representatives

    GAO/T-RCED-90-111                                      I
                                                                                              GAO FOG   160 w/87)
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

    We appreciate      this opportunity     to summarize our work on
aircraft     noise and to provide our observations        on research being
done to mitigate       it.  As you know, passage of the*Airline
Deregulation      Act of 1978 led to an increase in the number of
aircraft     operations.    Unfortunately,     when operations   increase,
there is a corresponding        increase in aircraft     noise.   Airport
operators have reacted to community complaints about aircraft              noise
by adopting noise restrictions          that may, in many instances,
restrict     access to airports.      The increasing   number of local
restrictions      has raised concerns about the effect that controlling
noise has on air commerce.

    Presently,      the responsibilities           for controlling      aircraft     noise
are shared between airports             and the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA)   l
           Airports      are responsible        for controlling      aircraft      noise and
for mitigating        its effects     in the immediate airport           vicinity.
Through its aircraft         certification         regulations,    FAA ensures that
aircraft    in operation do,not exceed established                 noise levels.
Furthermore,      under the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act of
1979, as amended, FAA assists airports                   in developing noise
mitigation     programs that are consistent               with safe air traffic
operations.       State and local governments, while not directly
responsible     for controlling         aircraft      noise, are often consulted
when airports       develop noise reduction programs.

    Our observations    today are based on both our on-going and
completed reviews.      At the request of the Chairman of the
Subcommittee on Aviation,       House Committee on Public Works, we are
currently    reviewing the impact of local noise regulations         on
airport   and airline   operations.     In addition, as requested by the
Subcommittee for today's hearing, we are providing          information   on
aikraft     noise research.     Our reports have identified     airports'
efforts   to mitigate   noise and examined the impact of noise created
by   major   airspace changes.      Today, we will discuss the impact of
not having sufficient        federal guidance on how to address the
aviation     noise problem, the issues needing resolution     before an
adequate national      aircraft    noise policy can be is formulated, and
FAA’s    research on aircraft      noise.  We will make three points:

--   First,   the Department of Transportation's           (DOT) February 1990
     National Transportation        Policy does not provide sufficient
     guidance on how the different         groups involved can work together
     to reduce aircraft      noise.     These groups include the federal
     government, aviation      industry,    state and local governments, and
     affected    community groups.       As a result,    airports  such as
     Los Angeles are planning to impose noise restrictions              that the
     airlines    vigorously   oppose. Because guidance is insufficient,
     local airport     access regulations      vary from airport    to airport
     across the country.       The resulting      "patchwork quilt@' style of
     regulation     has caused carriers     to adjust schedules or reduce

-- Second, in formulating       a national aircraft   noise policy,   FAA
   and DOT need to resolve several key issues, chief among them
   being when to ban operations using noisier         aircraft,  what
   further   actions to take in addition      to banning such
   operations,    and whether the federal government should be
   responsible    for mitigating    noise beyond the immediate
   vicinity    of an airport.

-- And, third,    FAA’s  research on aircraft     noise could be more
   effective   if the agency established      project priorities      and
   linked these projects      to specific  objectives    that contribute
   to reducing community exposure to aircraft          noise.    Such
   priorities    and objectives   are currently    not linked.

We will       now discuss   these points       in detail.


        Aircraft     noise has become a significant        national      issue in
several respects.           On the one hand, noise lessens the quality of
life for millions          of people who live near airports.           On the other
hand, local noise restrictions            have caused airlines       to alter
schedules or curtail          service to many cities.       Unresolved noise
disputes threaten the continued growth of airports                  and their
ability     to serve the growing demands of air travellers.                  DOT's
commitment to addressing these problems is contained in its
National Transportation           Policy.   In our opinion, however, this
policy's      statement on aircraft       noise is too general to resolve the
core issues surrounding the aircraft             noise problem.        Similarly,
FAA's recently        issued "Strategic     Plan", the agency's blueprint            for
meeting the aviation          challenges of the 19908, provides minimal
information       regarding FAA's plans to address aircraft              noise issues.
The plan states only that the agency will provide strong leadership
in mitigating       the adverse environmental        impact--principally         from
noise--that       aviation    has on the public.      FAA acknowledges that it
needs to develop an action plan to implement this strategy.

    The practical   effect of insufficient    guidance is that airports,
airport  operators,    and state and local governments are confused
over what to do. According to the transportation         policy,    the
federal government should work with the aviation        industry,     state
and local governments, and community groups to encourage the
development of local tools--such       as land use planning--to     mitigate
the noise problem.      At the same time, the policy also states that
the government should work with local communities and airport
users to "deter local actions that unreasonably interfere           with
system efficiency    or increase system costs."      The difficulty      is
that no explanation     is given about which local tools cause
unreasonable interference      or increase system costs or about how
reagonableness should be measured.

     The absence of clear direction          has had an impact On airports.
Airports   continue to impose local noise restrictions,                  such as
requiring    the use of quieter aircraft            during specifi d' times of the
day. Noise emissions standards are established                   in 14 C.F.R. part
36.    These regulations      prescribe    noise emission standards for
manufacturing     and certificating       aircraft.       They, in effect,
identify   three stages of noise standards, with Stage 1 being the
loudest and Stage 3 the quietest.             For example, Boeing 707s
(without engine modifications)          flown in the 1960s and 1970s are
Stage 1 aircraft.      Today's Boeing 757s operated by many U.S.
airlines   meet Stage 3 noise standards.              Access   restrictions    that
are uncoordinated     and airport-specific           have created what many
describe as a "patchwork quilt"           of noise regulations.

    At the request of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation,
House Committee on Public Works, we are reviewing the impact of
noise restrictions      on airports    and airlines.   We testified     on our
preliminary     analysis this m0rning.l       Our work shows that 3 of 140
airports    surveyed currently      have local bans on the use of Stage 2
aircraft.     Furthermore,    by the year 2000, 77 airports       are likely   to
ban Stage 2 operations.

     Recent actions by the Los Angeles International     Airport  and by
other Southern California     airports --notably Ontario and Van Nuys--
illustrate    this trend of local restrictions.    Los Angeles and
Ontario are planning to require that all Stage 2 operations        be
phased out by the year 2000, and Van Nuys would be even more
restrictive    by imposing this requirement by the year 1998. On the
one hand, the number of dwelling units within Los Angeles' noise-
impacted area are estimated to have decreased from 100,000 in 1972
to 26,600   in 1989, and it may decrease to 15,000 after the total
Stage 2 phaseout in 2000. On the other hand, prohibiting         a wide

'Aviation   Noise:    A National    Policy   Is Needed (GAO/T-RCED-90-112,
Sept. 27,   1990).

cross-section     of most airlines'      fleets   from operating at these
airports    will cause serious scheduling problems for airlines          and
cargo carriers.      About 60 percent of the U.S. fleet is composed of
Stage 2 aircraft.       Existing    noise restrictions    have already caused
some air carriers     to reduce service to such locations         as Orange
County, San Francisco,        and Boston.

    Aircraft    operators also are affected by inadequate federal
guidance in other ways. Sometimes local noise restrictions                     have
led to the inefficient        use of aircraft.       For example, airlines        have
used the quieter Boeing 757 (Stage 3) aircraft              to meet noise
restrictions     when smaller Boeing 727 (Stage 2) aircraft               would be
better suited to traffic        levels in the market.         Similarly,      when an
evening flight     using a Stage 2 aircraft        is delayed by bad weather,
locally     imposed nighttime     noise curfews sometimes cause the flight
to be cancelled or redirected          to an alternate     airport     not subject
to a Stage 2 curfew.        In addition,     without federal guidance on a
firm date on which a Stage 2 ban would take effect,                 aircraft
owners--lessors      in particular--     are uncertain    over when to make the
financial     commitments needed to either buy newer and quieter Stage
3 aircraft     or modify their Stage 2 aircraft          by installing       new
engines or devices to reduce the noise of existing                 engines.     The
latter    technique is known as hushkitting.

    While FAA and DOT express concern over the impact of local
restrictions,   such as those contemplated by Los Angeles, they have
not provided guidance on critical         issues such as when Stage 2
operations will be banned. In reaction to the proposal from the
Los Angeles and Ontario airports,         FM has asked airport
authorities   to respond to a list of 15 questions,        many requiring
extensive economic analysis.         For example, FAA is asking the
authorities   to quantify     "the estimated direct,   indirect,      and
induced economic impacts of each [noise reduction]           alternative  on
the Ylocal and national     level,   in areas such as jobs, income, and
earnings."    DOT officials      have told us that the Secretary is
considering    several   noise policy       proposals,   although   no details   are
now available.


    In our view, a national        aircraft    noise policy would provide the
federal guidance needed. In our testimony today before the House
Committee on Public Works, we discussed the need for such
guidance.    However, such a policy must balance the concerns of
local communities,     airports,      and airlines.     Therefore,     before
formulating   this policy,      three key points need to be resolved.
These are (1) when to ban operations            using noisier    aircraft,    (2)
what further    actions to take in addition          to banning such
operations,   and (3) whether the federal government should be
responsible   for mitigating       noise beyond the immediate vicinity          of
an airport.

How Soon Should Staae 2 Aircraft            be Phased Out?

    Federal regulations     used in certificating   aircraft   do not
restrict    use of Stage 2 aircraft.      However, after 1977, any new
transport    aircraft  design submitted to FAA for certification        must
conform to more stringent      Stage 3 noise standards.      Some local
airports    have imposed their own regulations     and banned all Stage 2
operations.      With the potential  increase in the number of airports
requiring    a greater percentage of Stage 3 operations,       a key
question is whether or not the federal government should establish
a firm date after which all Stage 2 operations         are banned.

    According to airline      and aircraft industry officials,  phasing
out Stage 2 aircraft      before the year 2000 is not feasible.    Most
passenger airlines     indicate   that they plan to phase out Stage 2
aircraft   voluntarily    between the years 2000 and 2010. As part of
our*work for the House Committee on Public Works, we recently

completed a survey of 140 airports.         Responses suggest that, in the
absence of any federal action,     a large proportion        of the nation's
largest airports   are likely   to prohibit    the use of Stage 2
aircraft  by the year 2000. In these circumstances,            the airline
officials  we spoke with believe that a & facto Stage 2 ban will
result because airlines    will not be able to use Stage 2 aircraft          at
enough airports  to operate such aircraft       efficiently.

    Therefore,    if more airports      implement these restrictions         and no
federal action is taken, Stage 2 aircraft            would be effectively
phased out by the year 2000. Federal policy,              supported by
regulation,    could delay this phaseout by preventing           airports     from
adopting new noise restrictions          that would lead to a Stage 2 ban by
the year 2000. However, once the federal governnent preempts local
regulation,    the potential   liability      for the noise and the financial
risk this entails     could become a federal responsibility.              If the
government chooses to preempt local regulation,             then the policy
issue is whether to (1) adopt the year 2000 as a reasonable date
for phasing out Stage 2 aircraft          or (2) prevent airports       from
adopting this or some earlier         date.

What Other   Actions   Are Needed?

    Two methods are available  to reduce noise:     noise abatement,
such as a ban on Stage 2 aircraft,     which reduces noise at the
source;  and noise mitigation  strategies,   which focus on lessening
the impact of noise on the people who are exposed to it, such as by
soundproofing  homes and schools and improving land-use planning.

   Noise  abatement is more cost-effective     and sometimes easier to
implement than noise mitigation    when an airport   is located in an
urban area where large numbers of people are affected       by aircraft
noise,   With noise abatement, the cost per person is low for a
large number of people.    By contrast,    the cost per person of
reducing noise exposure--by,    for example, soundproofing    homes in a

large metropolitan         area-- is so large that it is not Usually a
viable alternative         to noise abatement.3           Furthermore,     noise
mitigation      is sometimes difficult          to implement.       As we found in our
report on noise reduction           activities      at eight airports,4        making the
use of land around airports           more compatible with aircraft             noise
generally     required cooperation          from local communities and
substantial       funding.    At Atlanta's        Hartsfield    International
Airport,    for example, land-use measures--primarily                  large-scale
purchase of homes--have been implemented extensively.

    There are limits     to a noise abatement strategy.      Aircraft
manufacturers     do not believe it is possible to make aircraft
significantly     quieter than the quietest   aircraft   being built today
while also retaining       fuel efficiency.  Even these relatively     quiet
aircraft     expose people who live close to the airport      to a high
level of noise.       FAA estimates that 1.1 million    people will
continue to be exposed to excessive noise levels even if Stage 2
planes are banned.

    Reducing aircraft     noise to reasonable levels close to an airport
therefore     requires both noise abatement and noise mitigation
measures.      To ensure that land use is compatible with aircraft
noise,    including   the establishment  of local zoning regulations,
long-range planning probably will continue to be needed--even if a
Stage 2 ban is adopted.

3For example,       it is estimated that about 1 million       people living    in
200,000 dwelling units reside in noise-affected             areas around New
York's La Guardia airport.           Assuming that quieting    engines costs
about $2 million       per aircraft,    it would cost about $360 million
dollars    to convert the roughly 180 Stage 2 aircraft           that fly daily
into and out of La Guardia to Stage 3 standards.              On the other
hand, at about $5,000 each, it would cost about $1 billion               to
soundproof      the impacted dwellings around La Guardia.           And once the
aircraft     are converted,    they would have obvious noise reduction
benefits     at the other airports      that they serve.
'Aircraft     Noise     Eiaht Airnor s Efforts           . I
                                                   to Mltlaat    e Noise
 (GA~,RCED-89~l8~, Sept. 14, I9:9;.
          Pl&a      forjrSnd Use Cowatibu
Be abbe          to More communities?

    A major issue to be resolved before establishing           a national
aircraft     noise policy is whether areas located beyond the immediate
airport    vicinity      should be included in federally    sponsored noise
mitigation      efforts.     An integral  component of that issue is the
way aircraft       noise exposure is currently    measured.

    To implement the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act, FAA
developed the Part 150 program for airport         operators to plan and be
funded for making land use near their facilities          compatible with
airport  operations.    The program's purpose is to encourage airports
to prepare noise exposure maps showing areas of land uses
incompatible   with high noise levels and to propose a program to
reduce this incompatibility.        After FM accepts the proposed
program, the airport    is eligible     for federal funding to implement
projects   such as land acquisition      and soundproofing.

    The measurement of noise exposure has been a contentious              issue
among FAA, airports,      and local communities.     Currently,     noise
exposure is quantified      by the "day-night    sound level" measure, a
practice   used by several federal agencies.        This measure, Ldn,
represents an energy-averaged        sound level for a 24-hour period
measured from midnight to midnight,        with noise occurring      from
10 p.m. to 7 a.m. counting ten times as much as noise at other
times.    This difference    occurs because little     background noise
exists to mask aircraft      noise during this period, and people also
are more sensitive     to noise when they are trying to sleep.
Connecting locations      on a map with the same Ldn levels produces
lines called "noise contours,n much like a weather nap shows
isotherm lines of the same temperature.          An Ldn value of
65 decibels is the threshold        above which FAA and other agencies
consider land incompatible       for residential   use, including      schools
or hospitals.     As a result,    the area bound by the Ldn 65 noise
co&our is considered "noise-impacted II and is eligible           for Part 150
assistance.    From fiscal years 1982 through 1989,          FM   obligated
over $720 million   under the Part 150 program.

    Expanding the definition       of a noise-impacted       area to, for
example, the Ldn 60 contour, has operational              and financial
implications.      Under this definition,        airports   and FM would need
to develop noise mitigation        measures to account for the impact of
aircraft    noise in these outlying       areas.     For instance,    the effect
of new jet routes and altitudes          would need to be assessed over a
much larger geographical       area.     From a financial     perspective,
expanding Part 150 eligibility         to areas outside of Ldn 65 will
increase existing     program costs.       For example, while the number of
people residing within Ldn 60 contours has not been established,
the Environmental     Protection     Agency estimated in 1979 that
45 million    people lived in Ldn 55-65 areas while 5 million              lived
in areas of Ldn 65 or greater.

   FAA’s     Expanded East Coast Plan, for example, was implemented
without addressing the effect of aircraft             noise in areas beyond the
immediate airport       vicinity.     This plan was implemented in response
to air traffic      delays at the New York City Metropolitan           area's
three major airports         and was a major revision      of air traffic
control routes and flight         procedures in the Eastern United States.
In evaluating     the plan, we found that many people living             up to 40
miles away from the New York area airports             complained repeatedly
and bitterly     about aircraft     noise.5     In response, FAA said that
little   could be done for residents          outside the Ldn 65 noise
contour, and according to the Ldn measure, the average noise they
were exposed to did not entitle           then to federally    funded relief.

5Aircraft Noise:  Imnlementation        of FAA's Exnanded East Coast Plan
(GAQ/RCED-88-143, Aug. 5, 1988).

               G WT          NOISE

         In view of the long-term nature of the aircraft           noise problem,
    research can be a critical        component in improving noise abatement
    and mitigation     techniques.      FM has identified     projects    it would
    undertake if provided with additional         funding.     The effectiveness
    of future noise research could be enhanced by establishing                project
    priorities     and linking   projects  to specific    objectives.       Currently,
    FM’s     noise projects    are not subject to such priority        setting.

    Current   Noise Research

          FAA's fiscal  year 1990 budget for research, engineering,          and
    development (RECD) is approximately      $170 million.      About
    $2 million  of this amount is for environmental        research,   of which
    about $1.5 million   is committed to aircraft      noise research.
    Figure 1 shows the relative     funding levels in FAA's fiscal       year
    1990 RE&D budget for its research activities        or programs.     As can
    be seen in figure 1 below, funding for environmental          research ranks
    the lowest among all activities      and programs.

 FIGURE 1: FISCAL YEAR 1990 READ                           .-
 AcnYrrY/PRmRAu                             CWllnhYbrr


   FM     has several projects     currently    underway in aircraft     noise
research.     Projects fall into four broad areas, according to FM
program officials      responsible   for managing aircraft        noise
mitigation    research.     These are (1) keeping noise standards up-to-
date, (2) keeping U.S. and international            noise certification
standards in harmony, (3) lowering the cost of compliance testing,
and (4) developing methodologies for quantifying            the impact of
aircraft    noise.   Current projects      include,   for example, studies on
the impact of high altitude        noise, the financial     benefits    of noise
reduction at airports,       and the adequacy of Ldn for determining the
impact of aircraft      noise on a community.        As shown in figure 2
below, approximately      half of the noise research funding in fiscal
year 1990 was allocated       for developing methodologies for
quantifying     the impact of noise.


             ncNJRE 2: FISCAL YEAR lwa Nom   _ _,,
             FUNMNODlSTMBUTlW BY
             PROGRAM OBJECTIVE               700 Wurln-         7

               Future Rpsearch Plalls

                    This Subcommittee has recommended increasing the funding of
               environmental projects --which includes aircraft           noise--from     about
               $2 m illion     in fiscal year 1990, to $4.4 m illion      in fiscal year
                1991, and to $5.4 m illion       in fiscal year 1992. F M program
               officials     told us that they would undertake several initiatives            if
               additional      funding was provided.      For instance, they would
               contribute      funding to the National Aeronautics and Space
               Administration's        (NASA) research in aircraft    noise.    W h ile F M
               focuses its research activities          on the impact of aircraft      noise on
               communities      and how to m inimize it, NASA's research aims to assess
               the feasibility       of reducing noise by developing new aircraft
               tec;lnology,     such as quieter engines and airframes with higher lift
capabilities.       FM officials   believe that an annual $1-million
contribution     will enhance FM’s     ability to influence    NASA's program
priorities.      Other research initiatives    program officials
identified    included developing new training      techniques for
improving the way FM staff deal with the public on noise issues
and enhancing planning tools,       such as a data base on airport     noise
mitigation    measures.

Pes-rch    Priorities

    In April 1989 testimony before this Subcommittee on FM's
overall research and development program, we stressed the
importance of setting       project priorities.       We said that FM had
not established    priorities      for its fiscal   year 1990 research
budget.6    Without priorities,        projects  could not be distinguished
in importance.     As a result,       there was no assurance that scarce
resources were effectively         allocated.

    In our opinion,      the Subcommittee's proposal for increasing
funding of environmental        research by $2.4 million     in fiscal    year
1991 highlights      the need for FM to develop a plan which
 (1) establishes     project priorities      and (2) links these projects      to
specific    objectives     that contribute    to reducing community exposure
to aircraft     noise.     With such a plan, the benefits     of an airport
noise mitigation       data base, for example, could be weighed against
other noise research activities,           such as new air traffic    control
techniques to permit quieter flight           profiles.

    In summary, reducing aircraft noise in the future will require
federal guidance and a focused research program.     In the short-

6PAA Res arch. Enaineerina,       and Develomment~,Lssues (GAO/T-RCED-89-
21, Apr.e12, 1989).
term, a national        aircraft    noise policy must be formulated that
balances community noise concerns with the air transportation
system's responsiveness           to the travelling     public.   In the long-
term, FM’s      noise research could be more effective            if FM
established     priorities       among projects     and linked these projects    to
specific    objectives.

   That concludes our statement, Mr. Chairman.  We will               be pleased
to respond to any questions that you or members of the
Subcommittee may have at this time.