A Work-Around to FAA’s Failed Noise Models

This Post looks at how a simple and economical noise study for a large park and natural area suggests a better way to study airport noise. It essentially presents a work-around to two root problems in how FAA and industry ‘collaborate’ to obstruct aviation noise activism:

  1. that FAA knowingly uses noise metrics and noise models that work great for the airlines – since they completely fail to define and mitigate aviation noise impacts, but work terribly for people – since they consistently fail to objectively quantify noise and impacts; and,
  2. that, whenever citizens approach FAA or airport authorities with their concerns, and seek hard data to help define and fix the problems, both FAA and airport authorities routinely withhold that data, and instead work to confuse and disillusion these activists.

The Boston (Logan) Noise Impacts

In recent years, FAA has become extremely accommodating to hub airlines, by no longer pushing back against excessive flight scheduling. At Boston Logan [KBOS], the airport configuration allowing the highest capacity in terms of ‘runway throughput’ or operations per hour, includes using the parallel runways 4L and 4R for arrivals. KBOS has major hub operations by JetBlue, and minor hub operations by American and Delta. So, with FAA intensifying the use of runways 4L and 4R for arrivals, even in crosswind and slight tailwind conditions, they are imposing an enormous noise and air pollutant burden on communities under the straight-in arrival corridor.

The impact upon communities below, such as Milton, has been intense.¬†People are losing sleep (the short term impact) and breathing more aviation pollutants (which will cause serious long-term health impacts). They are complaining to both FAA and the airport authority, Massport, as well as to their elected reps and local community officials. Their complaints continue to be broadly ignored by the key authorities – FAA and Massport – both of whom routinely reply that ‘nothing has changed’ and ‘the perceived impacts are not significant by our standards’. Needless to say, this mishandling by FAA and Massport only infuriates and further sensitizes the impacted communities.

Something has to change. FAA/Massport must stop pretending to comply with federal and state environmental impact assessment processes, which they do by using worthless impact models. Frankly, these models were designed to create an illusion that impacts are objectively measured, and they were also designed to bias the conclusions to ensure validation of any and all airport operational expansions. We need a new model that is objective; a model with people collecting REAL noise data and compiling it into impact contours may be the best way to go.

Noise Modeling at Blue Hills Reservation

The Blue Hills Reservation includes 125-miles of trails on 7,000 acres. A prominent water body in this natural area is Houghton’s Pond, which happens to be under the straight-in approach to runways 4L and 4R, at approximately 11-miles from the landing threshold.

Friends of the Blue Hills is a local non-profit organization that coordinates volunteers and works to preserve and protect this wonderful natural resource. A recent Post at their blog announced a great project. It looks like Boston University is doing a noise study; professor Richard Primack and doctoral student Lucy Zipf appear to be crowd-sourcing the use of an iphone app by volunteer hikers, to compile an actual noise map of the trails for most or even all 7,000 acres of Blue Hills Reservation.It will be very interesting to see what they produce. Seemingly, if the app-devices are synchronized, they could create a noise contour map that would show actual noise levels at any one time. Further, a collection of maps could be created, so that noise impacts for varying conditions can be compared.

How This Might Be Used For Aviation Noise Impacts

The app and methodologies could easily be applied to a residential community, such as Milton (or Des Moines, WA; or Cabin John, MD; or Palo Alto, CA; etc.). What’s to stop a local activist group from staging a grid of 4- or 6- or even dozens of devices at mapped street locations in Milton, and compiling the data into maps that show REAL decibel-level impacts? What’s to stop that same group from creating reference maps on days where there are no runway 4R and 4L arrivals, to establish a definitive baseline noise level?

Let’s watch this project and see if it offers a smart and economical work-around, so we can move beyond the ongoing data obstruction by FAA and airport authorities.

Boston noise activist groups: