The Federal Aviation Administration recently announced its intention to study the impact airplane noise has on communities around the country. You might think this would be cause for celebration in Phoenix because hundreds of households are suffering from noise associated with the flight paths changes made last year at Sky Harbor Airport, but residents say the news is not very encouraging.
"Why do we need another study in order to again qualify what we know?" says Nicole Marquez of the FQ Story neighborhood, an area disproportionately impacted by noise.
Steve Dreiseszun, another resident impacted by the noise, agrees. "On the surface, this FAA aircraft noise study seems like a positive development. However, it comes only after years of noise complaints nationally which have ramped up significantly since [NextGen] procedures have been rolled out across the country." (The September 18, 2014 flight path changes at Sky Harbor were part of NextGen, a massive reorganization of all air traffic control management and coordination efforts across the country.)
The FAA's study will survey citizens from 20 cities about their perception of aviation noise, and how it affects their lives. "This will be the most comprehensive study using a single noise survey ever undertaken in the United States," states the FAA's press release.
According to Laura Brown of the FAA, planning for the study began before the flight path changes at Sky Harbor, and it is not a reaction to publicity about the situation. She declined to comment on what this study might mean for the city's noise problem.
The goal of the multi-year survey is to determine whether the agency should reevaluate the noise metric it uses -- called the Day-Night Average Sound Level, or DNL. Critics of the DNL noise metric view it as problematic because it's a weighted average of all noise in a given day and therefore doesn't account for the impact of single events.
In other words, the DNL works if you want to calculate long-term noise levels, but if you're trying to measure the impact of planes flying over your house, you would want a metric that accounts for peak decibel level and frequency.
According to the press release, if, after the study, "changes are warranted, the FAA will propose revised policy and related guidance and regulations, subject to interagency coordination, as well as public review and comment."
Chad Makovsky, assistant aviation director for Sky Harbor, wrote in a statement to New Times that "while we are encouraged by the fact that the FAA recognizes the methods currently used to measure aircraft noise impacts may be outdated, we do not expect this FAA study to provide timely relief to Phoenix area residents who are suffering the effects of recent FAA flight path changes."
"The FAA is sensitive to public concerns about aircraft noise. We understand the interest in expediting this research, and we will complete this work as quickly as possible," FAA administrator Michael Huerta says in the press release. The agency expects to finish the survey by the end of 2016 and "will then analyze the results to determine whether to update its methods for determining exposure to noise."
However, the lengthy time frame is part of what makes this study so infuriating for those who live with the noise every day and want immediate relief.
"Impacts from changes at Sky Harbor are real and are happening today. My fear is that the FAA will take upwards of two years to study 'per flight' noise impact and will use that period to do no noise mitigation from the new flight paths in Phoenix," Dreiseszun says. "For an agency that is notoriously slow in doing most anything, this seems like either a big effort out of sequence, or a big delay. I am not sure which."
Marquez perhaps summarizes the frustration of residents best when she says, "It's absurd to expect residents to wait until 2016 to agree noise is an issue!"
"If the FAA and airline companies think that a study will pacify Phoenix residents, they are gravely mistaken," she says. "Activists are ready to mobilize, not just locally, but nationally. They may have money, but we have numbers."
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