Aircraft Noise:

Implementation of FAA's Expanded East Coast Plan

RCED-88-143: Published: Aug 5, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) implementation of its Expanded East Coast Plan, focusing on: (1) agencies' responsibilities for assessing the environmental impact of revising air routes and flight procedures; (2) the plan's effects on noise and air routes; (3) how FAA measured aircraft noise; (4) reasons why FAA did not perform an environmental assessment of the plan; and (5) actions FAA took in response to citizens' complaints regarding increased aircraft noise.

GAO found that FAA: (1) designed the plan to reduce air traffic delays by revising air traffic control routes and flight procedures; (2) had sole responsibility for assessing the plan's environmental impact and used a measure of day-night noise level (Ldn) to determine cumulative exposure to aircraft noise; (3) did not assess the plan's environmental impact, based on its long-standing policy to exempt routes and flight procedures carried out at over 3,000 feet from such assessment; and (4) concluded that the plan significantly reduced flight delays, but failed to link any delay reductions to specific plan components. GAO also found that: (1) the plan resulted in three new departure routes, two new arrival routes, and six realigned routes over New Jersey; (2) New Jersey residents lodged numerous complaints about increased aircraft noise after the plan's implementation; (3) a 1-day FAA study in one affected area showed aircraft noise to be within FAA guidelines; and (4) in response to citizen complaints, FAA directed air traffic controllers to, when possible, direct flights along more varied paths to spread traffic over a wider area.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Aviation Safety and Capacity Expansion Act of 1990 stipulated that FAA shall: (1) issue an environmental impact statement; and (2) conduct an investigation to determine the effects on air safety of changes in flight patterns over New Jersey.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to improve the information base available on which to assess the merits of the Expanded East Coast Plan and other such major airspace changes by: (1) preparing an environmental assessment of the effects of the plan and, if significant impacts from the plan are found, preparing an environmental impact statement; (2) making a qualitative determination of which portions of the reduced delays are due to the plan and which are due to other factors; and (3) preparing an environmental assessment of any major proposal for making widespread air route or flight procedure changes on the West Coast or in other areas of the country where delays and congestion warrant such changes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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