WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to revise its outdated and inadequate noise policy and apply the policy consistently. In a comment letter submitted to the FAA, AG Racine encouraged the agency to modernize its existing noise policy, which is based on data from the 1970s and fails to incorporate several decades of research documenting negative effects of exposure to aircraft noise. AG Racine also argues that the FAA must ensure that its noise policy is applied fairly across the board to reduce impacts on communities near airports, highlighting the agency’s previous failure to apply the existing policy when making changes to flight paths around National Airport (DCA).
“Because of the FAA’s outdated and inconsistently applied policy, District residents have their sleep disturbed and their work and school interrupted by aircraft noise every day,” said AG Racine. “Decades of research has shown that exposure to noise can interfere with children’s ability to learn and harm human health. I strongly encourage the FAA to modernize its noise policy based on evidence and to ensure its policy is consistently applied to protect District residents from air-traffic noise.”
In January 2021, the FAA posted a notice summarizing the results of the Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES), a nationwide survey on exposure to aircraft noise and its negative effects on communities surrounding airports. The results of the survey indicate that the FAA’s current noise policy, based on a model developed in the 1970s, is inadequate and does not accurately account for the full potential effects of aircraft noise. After completing the study, the FAA sought public comment on what additional investigation, analysis, and research the agency should undertake to inform its noise policy and what other factors could be contributing to the significant increase in harms reflected in the survey results.
In a comment letter, AG Racine urges the FAA to:
- Update its inadequate noise policy: The results of the NES demonstrate that the FAA’s existing noise policy is inadequate and that the data it has relied on for decades is outdated. According to the NES, the percentage of people who are “highly annoyed” by aircraft noise is three to ten times greater than what the previous data would predict.
- Use other research to inform policy: The FAA’s current policy is based only on noise levels and the “annoyance” the noise causes. The policy does not consider decades of research regarding the negative impact of environmental and aircraft noise on health, sleep, and even children’s academic performance. The FAA should draw from this existing research and knowledge about the impacts of noise and use it to develop a new policy.
- Apply noise policy fairly and consistently: The FAA must apply its noise policy consistently and in accordance with existing law. In the District, the FAA has failed to appropriately apply its noise policy when making routing decisions for flights departing from DCA. Specifically, before implementing changes to DCA flight paths in 2015, the FAA failed to conduct a legally required environmental assessment. The FAA also determined that the changes would not have a significant impact even though its own noise modeling showed that a large part of Georgetown and the eastern shore of the Potomac River would experience a significant increase in noise. When the District conducted an independent assessment of the changes, it found that aircraft noise had increased substantially in northwest communities, including in classrooms and during the night.
A copy of the comment letter is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/OAG.FAA_.Comments.Noise_.Survey.3.15.21.pdf