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Quigley Draws Commitment from FAA to Improve Airport Noise Study

May 12, 2021
Press Release

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) and Vice-Chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, questioned Stephen Dickson, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), regarding ongoing concerns about aviation noise around airports nationwide, including O’Hare. During Quigley’s questioning, Dickson committed to a comprehensive policy review that will incorporate issues that Quigley has focused on throughout his time in Congress.

For years, Quigley has been pressing FAA to study whether the 65 DNL threshold is the appropriate level for measuring significant aviation noise exposure and representative of the true impact of noise in communities around O’Hare and other airports, including in law in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. Recent data released by FAA suggest that the impact of 65 DNL is far greater than previously assumed. In today’s hearing, Administrator Dickson committed to Quigley that the FAA will finally conduct a comprehensive policy review which will study, among other topics, whether DNL is the correct metric and if 65 DNL is the correct threshold, above which residential land use is not suitable.

Following the hearing, Quigley released the following statement:

“After the FAA’s long delay in producing their report on the 65 DNL threshold, I was disappointed when a final report failed to properly address the concerns of residents around O’Hare and other airports across the country,” said Quigley. “I am relieved that Administrator Dickson committed today to revisiting that study and finally providing a serious, comprehensive response to our communities. I will be closely following the Administrator’s progress and I am committed to ensuring that this issue is addressed effectively at long last.”

Video of Quigley and Administrator Dickson on discussing the flawed study is available HERE and a transcript is provided below:

Quigley: I’ve been here 12 years, and for those 12 years it's been apparent that the noise standard that we’ve used dealing with aviation noise is insufficient and probably for those 12 years I've been asking FAA to do an analysis, a study, to reassess this--to absolutely zero satisfaction. 

But as you know fast-forward to the present, FAA released the long-awaited neighborhood environmental survey earlier this year and the results were shocking.

For decades the FAA has held that the noise measurement of 65 DNL is only “highly annoying,” a technical term, to roughly 10% of the individuals exposed to it.

These recent results of this neighborhood study, indicated 50% of the individuals exposed to noise levels at or above 65, find it highly annoying. 

Undoubtedly this level of nice severely impacted respondents to the survey, raising questions as whether this is an acceptable level.

If a noise level of 65 DNL may be negatively affecting five times more individuals than previously assumed, do you think that merits that we finally get around to determining whether the 65 DNL standard accurately reflects the impact of aviation noise?

Dickson: Well thank you for the question Congressman Quigley, and I agree with you that the result of the noise survey are something that are very important to us, and they will inform our decisions going forward.

And as a result of the work that we have done over the past number of years, you mentioned some of it, you know we have seen a lot of progress over the last you know 20 to 25 years in terms of addressing noise at the source, quieter aircraft, more efficient flight paths, etc...and overall there are fewer people in our communities who are affected by noise

But that has not translated into what we hear from communities as you said.

So we've got to figure out what the right with the right balance is from a public policy perspective. So what we are doing is we are initiating and we announced this a few weeks ago, we are initiating a comprehensive policy review of how the agency manages aviation noise and we are engaging the federal mediation and conciliation service in doing this, because I want to make sure that this is not an internal FAA process or even internal within the government, that we engage all stakeholders. We've got to engage the airlines, airports, communities, to make sure that we make the right policy choices going forward.

The threshold issue that we need to look at is whether DNL is the appropriate metric, and then as you said also whether the 65 DNL threshold makes sense. 

And then beyond that there are supplemental metrics that maybe useful, you're familiar with some of them, and some of them are being used in other parts of the world, to make sure that we've got a good comprehensive solution with how we're going to to manage aviation noise in the context all of the broader trade-offs that need to be made in terms of environment emissions and other aspects of the aviation system.

Quigley: Excuse me administrator, we just have to excuse the sins of the fathers, right? This has been something we’ve been working on for a long time, and you inherited something of the mess.

I mean, whatever happened to the original 65 DNL study? We had heard through the grapevine that it had been for lack of a better expression screwed up, but consider all that interest in, and what we got was one paragraph, in the FAA Reauthorization Act that demanded this, we got one paragraph in there and the FAA’s report to Congress released in April 2020.

Are they going to release what they analyzed in 65 DNL noise study or are they going to start over? 

Dickson: We will be undertaking the 65 DNL as part of the comprehensive policy analysis. 

So what we have done up to this point is look at alternative metrics to 65 and so we will again undertake that as part of this overall policy review and again it will not be just FAA, it will be the entire aviation community and those who are affected by aviation noise.

Quigley: Just because inquiring minds want to know, at some point could someone tell us what happened to the last noise study to analyze 65 DNL? 

Dickson: Well I'll be happy to follow up with you and your staff directly congressman.