Last Thursday, February 25, 2016, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced a bill (S.2585) that would establish an Airspace Management Advisory Committee. This Committee would review and provide comments on proposals that would change “regulations, policies, or guidance of the Federal Aviation Administration relating to airspace that affects airport operations, airport capacity, the environment, or communities in the vicinity of airports.” In addition, the Committee would review and offer revisions to the current practices and procedures of the FAA concern those changes. In their joint press release, the Senators explained why they introduced the Bill. “While modernizing flight paths is critical to enhancing safety for all travelers, our communities and airports deserve to have a seat at the table before the FAA implements any changes,” said Senator McCain. “Our legislation would ensure that all impacted communities, like those around Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, are able to voice their concerns before future changes go into effect.” Senator Flake added that “while I continue to support efforts to improve the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system, it’s clear that the FAA would greatly benefit from working with relevant stakeholders before all major airspace changes go into effect.”
While the development of such a committee is a step in the right direction, there are a few issues with the bill. First, “communities in the vicinity of airports” must be read broadly in order for it to have meaning. In the past, the FAA has concluded that any community beyond the 65 DNL contour is beyond the vicinity of the airport. The FAA’s reasoning is that beyond 65 DNL contour, aircraft noise haws no significant impact on the human environment. There are, however, many communities that are have been harmed by aircraft noise that are outside the 65 DNL contour and are located some distance from the airport. In many cases, this is the result of the creation of flight paths where there were not any before. Thus, “communities in the vicinity of airports” should include those communities where an aircraft, on approach or upon departure, is below 5,000 feet above ground level.
Second, the membership of the Committee does not include any representation from community groups. The Bill states that the Committee shall include “representatives of air carriers, airports of various sizes and types, and State aviation officials.” All of those representatives have a vested interest in the promotion of air commerce. While they may try to be pre-judge their review of FAA proposals, they all have an inherent bias toward the promotion of air commerce at the expense of those people on the ground. In order to make the Committee workable, there needs to be a diversity of opinions that reflect the entire spectrum of thought on these matters.
Senators McCain and Flake should be applauded for their efforts to protect the interests of the families living in areas harmed by aircraft noise. This bill, along with S.2406, “a bill to require the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to review certain decisions to grant categorical exclusions for Next Generation flight procedures and to consult with the airports at which such procedures will be implemented,” shows their concern for the health and well-being of families on ground. With the Senate poised to take up FAA Reauthorization in the coming weeks, let us hope that the voices of the families harmed by aircraft noise are heard.