By Tom Momberg
The three members of Congress’ Quiet Skies Caucus from Queens are pushing for tougher aircraft noise controls amid growing concern over the health of residents living near major U.S. airports.
The Quiet Skies Caucus was created in 2014 to work to reduce the impact of aircraft noise in the urban communities they represent across the country. Its members sent recommendations for new noise mitigation strategies to the House Transportation Committee last week, ahead of the introduction of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act this September.
Members of the caucus, including U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Steve Israel (D-Melville/Queens) and Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), said they have been increasingly worried about the effect aircraft noise from John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports has on their constituencies.
“One of the things that is happening here, what my colleagues are beginning to realize … and what I think the creation of this caucus says, is that aircraft noise is not just a regional issue, but a national issue,” Crowley said during a phone interview.
The congressman said he feels confident the caucus’ recommendations will be heard by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the Transportation Committee chairman, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking member, and can have a strong impact on the way the FAA considers public health in its oversight of major U.S. airports.
The upcoming legislation and reauthorization of the FAA comes as the FAA is conducting a survey of residents around 20 unidentified major U.S. airports, intended to help the administration come up with new recommendations for noise monitoring by 2016.
Similarly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mandated the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to conduct its own study in Queens based on current federal guidelines.
But if the Quiet Skies Caucus’ suggestions make it into the FAA reauthorization legislation, the findings of its survey or of the Port Authority’s study may be superseded by stricter rules regarding noise monitoring and aviation noise mitigation strategies.
Meng said she has been disappointed with the FAA’s communication over noise issues from city to city, so any new requirements could only be a positive development.
“I think this can really improve the situation for our constituents and work harmoneously together with what the Port Authority is doing,” she said in a phone interview.
Crowley said because the FAA is balancing the interests of commerce, industry and people, it should be up to the House to make its urban constituents a higher priority for the FAA in considering any future changes to airport functions or flight patterns.
“Many of the recommendations we outline in our request are measures that I have pushed for since I was elected to Congress, and incorporating our suggestions into this broad FAA bill would be the most effective legislative vehicle to address the problem of aircraft noise,” Meng said in a statement. “Relief can’t come soon enough for those affected by the barrage of airplanes.”
Firstly, the caucus has suggested a mandate for more robust community engagement and hearings before flight paths or procedures are changed or new ones are introduced.
The proposed recommendations would also require the FAA to use a supplemental noise metric to characterize noise effects in lay terms. The current Day-Night Average Sound Level or DNL measurement system, which averages noise levels across 365 days a year, weighting nighttime levels heavier than daytime, is often too complex for public understanding.
This proposal would also lower the acceptable noise level at which federal money could be made available for noise mitigation in affected residential and commercial areas from 65 DNL to 55 DNL.
The caucus has also recommended airport operators be legally permitted (they are currently not) and urged strongly to consider noise mitigation strategies on their own for communities experiencing aircraft noise levels below 65 DNL.
Other recommendations would be to reform the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which allowed the FAA to sidestep the environmental review process in implementing new flight patterns, and mandate independent research on the health impacts of aviation noise.
“Long Islanders and Queens residents know all too well the effects of airplane noise thundering above their homes and businesses,” Israel said in a statement. “I believe implementing the recommendations in our letter would represent a substantive step forward towards improving the quality of life for our citizens.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb