PBN comes under scrutiny in US noise study

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is embarking on a comprehensive scientific study to examine the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports.

The move is widely seen as an acknowledgement of public concerns over new performance-based navigation (PBN) flight procedures that communities say create a new, noisier footprint.

Earlier this year eight associations wrote to FAA chief Michael Huerta stressing the neeed for a ‘fact-and science-based approach’, adding, “We are troubled by recent calls for the FAA to fiat in new noise metrics and thresholds without basis or to otherwise reverse appropriately advanced PBN flight procedures.”

In response Huerta said any changes to metrics cannot be made without scientific support. “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,” he said. “This Administration takes its responsibility to be responsive to communities’ concerns over air noise seriously. Our work is intended to give the public an opportunity to provide perspective and viewpoints on a very important issue.”

Beginning in the next two to three months, the FAA will contact residents around selected US airports through mail and telephone to survey public perceptions of aviation noise throughout the course of a year. This will be the most comprehensive study using a single noise survey ever undertaken in the United States, polling communities surrounding 20 airports nationwide. To preserve the scientific integrity of the study, the FAA cannot disclose which communities will be polled.

The FAA has obtained approval from the Office of Management and Budget to conduct the survey and hopes to finish gathering data by the end of 2016. The agency will then analyse the results to determine whether to update its methods for determining exposure to noise.

The framework for this study was developed through the Airports Cooperative Research Programme (ACRP), which is operated by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences. This methodology will be used to determine whether to change the FAA’s current approach, as well as consideration of compatible land uses and justification for federal expenditures for areas that are not compatible with airport noise.

Aircraft noise is currently measured on a scale that averages all community noise during a 24-hour period, with a ten-fold penalty on noise that occurs during night and early morning hours. The scientific underpinnings for this measurement, known as the Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL), were the result of social surveys of transportation noise in the 1970s.

In 1981, the FAA established DNL 65 decibels as the guideline at which federal funding is available for soundproofing or other noise mitigation. This method was reaffirmed in studies conducted during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

During the ensuing years, aircraft manufacturers incorporated technologies that resulted in dramatically quieter aircraft. However, residents around many of the largest US airports have expressed concerns about aircraft noise associated with the continuing growth of the aviation industry. The FAA is taking an updated look at its approach for measuring noise as part of an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, including communities and leaders of a number of cities across the nation.

If 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.

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