Select Board Calls for FAA to Improve Noise Metrics, Response

August 7, 2023
Hanscom airfield – Image (c) JMcCT 2017

The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing noise metrics and noise thresholds, which could lead to “decisions” on the relationship between aircraft sound and community health and welfare.

The Bedford Select Board, in a letter to the agency, has registered its support for “an expanded system of metrics” that “would provide a more accurate understanding of the impact of aviation noise on individuals and communities.”

“We also encourage FAA to improve its response policy for individuals who submit noise complaints,” the Select Board added. “Residents have told us they do not feel their concerns about aviation noise in their neighborhoods are truly heard or addressed by Massport or FAA.”

The letter contends, “There is no easy way for a complainant to receive additional information or ask further questions about the causes of the complaint, and FAA rarely reports that any action has been taken in response.”

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Select Board member Emily Mitchell, who serves as liaison to the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission, noted that the agency also is encouraging public comment, through Sept. 29, using this link: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FAA-2023-0855-0001

The Concord-based advocacy organization Quiet Communities, Inc., is advising area residents that “it is extremely important for the FAA to hear your personal ‘lived experience’ with aviation noise.  Conclude by stating that you hope and expect the FAA will adopt a new noise policy and new metrics that protect overflown communities and near-airport communities from harm…”

Noise levels from Hanscom Field are regularly reported by the Massachusetts Port Authority, which also logs noise complaints. But Massport maintains that actual noise policy is in the domain of the FAA.

The FAA says it is reviewing how it “analyzes, explains, and publicly presents changes in noise exposure from aviation activity.” The agency will “consider how changes to the civil aviation noise policy may better inform the types of impacts it considers in making decisions (community annoyance, certain types of adverse health impacts highly correlated with aviation noise exposure), and potential improvements to how the FAA analyzes, explains, and presents changes in exposure to civil aviation noise.”

The Select Board letter explains, “The current system of a single metric, DNL, to measure noise, along with the 65-decibel threshold to assess significant noise impacts, is inadequate to understand and address the impacts of aviation noise from Hanscom Field on local residents.

“DNL gives additional weight to aviation noise occurring overnight, when sleep is more likely to be disrupted. Our residents, however, have also noted significant disturbances during the day, making it difficult to enjoy the outdoors, work from home, or carry on conversations in their backyards.”

The letter asserted, “These disturbances have long-term effects on the health and well-being of Bedford residents.”

Also, the board encouraged use of a specific metric that “better reflects the current experiences of people living near airports and under flight paths. Its use may expand the boundaries delineating significant noise impacts around the airfield.”

The letter also specifically addresses noise measurement tools suggested by the FAA, and favors use of those that “could potentially be used to identify significant noise events and attribute noise complaints to those specific events,” and “provide a more accurate picture of the actual experiences and impacts of aviation noise on residents than an averaged metric such as DNL.”

“Average Individual Exposure” is a single-event/operational metric that the board said could “support an individual’s assessment of significant aviation noise at their location, and could help FAA review and potentially revise its flight paths to reduce persistent noise in particular neighborhoods.”

Mitchell pointed out that the docket number (FAA-2023-0855) can also be used “to search regulations.gov for documents related to the proposed policy change and to read others’ comments.”

Quiet Communities, Inc., suggests that commenters provide not only details of flights (times, frequency, aircraft type) but also of their impact, ranging from sleep disruption and emotional health to mental well-being and effects on children’s ability to concentrate.

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