Is it really about the noise or something else?

Bill Dunn_2.png Over the next few columns in Skybrief, let’s take a look at community complaints regarding noise generated by the local airport. Is it really about the noise or are there other factors at work? We’ll take a look at airport compatible land use (or what might be more appropriately called incompatible land uses) and what’s lacking in protecting the airport environment. Last months’ column dealt with FAA Grant Assurances. Grant Assurance 21 deals specifically with land use in and around federally obligated airports.

21. Compatible Land Use. It will take appropriate action, to the extent reasonable, including the adoption of zoning laws, to restrict the use of land adjacent to or in the immediate vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal airport operations, including landing and takeoff of aircraft. In addition, if the project is for noise compatibility program implementation, it will not cause or permit any change in land use, within its jurisdiction, that will reduce its compatibility, with respect to the airport, of the noise compatibility program measures upon which Federal funds have been expended.

Any airport that’s accepted federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds agrees to abide by these assurances. But enforcement by the FAA is hit or miss.

In 1995, the FAA Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) Advisory Committee – Airports Working Group, published their Final Report on Compatible Land Use. The report noted “the need for compatible land use around airports has become an increasingly agreed upon imperative. Unfortunately, it has remained a need demonstrated more by its absence than be effective examples of its application.” [emphasis added] That statement remains as true today as it was in 1995.

As cities and suburbs have spread, airports and residential development have become increasingly wedged together. The fact that the airport was there first presents an unconvincing argument to homeowners and apartment dwellers who have established their homes a mile off the departure end of a runway. While it’s highly probable they knew of the airport’s existence prior to moving into their new dream house, it’s also possible their Ace realtor didn’t advise them of the airport’s existence. Then on the other hand, it also possible they drove around the area on a day the airport wasn’t’ very active.
If those responsible for administering land use in areas surrounding their airport had implemented a long-term approach to responsible and compatible land uses, many of the problems that pilots, airports, elected officials and home owners experience today would not exist.

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has provided guidance on development around airports (although it’s quite outdated) and has Grant Assurances that require an obligated airport sponsor to protect the airport’s ingress/egress with zoning when possible, the agency has no statutory authority to impose land use planning requirements on local or state governments. The U.S. Constitution grants the power for land use planning and regulation to states. As such, the FAA leaves responsibility for land use planning around airports to state and local agencies.

Next time, we will explore some of the State and Local actions undertaken.