Aviation and the Environment:

Results From a Survey of the Nation's 50 Busiest Commercial Service Airports

RCED-00-222: Published: Aug 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed key environmental concerns and challenges associated with airports' current operations and future growth and the efforts of major airports and federal agencies to address those concerns. GAO conducted a survey of the nation's 50 busiest commercial airports.

GAO noted that: (1) the survey responses indicated that noise, water, and air quality issues are the primary environmental concerns/challenges facing airports now and for the foreseeable future; (2) other issues of concern cited by some airport officials were wetlands, endangered species, environmental justice, and historical preservation; (3) noise was the greatest concern reported by airport officials for both current and future operations; (4) water pollution was the next greatest current concern, followed by air quality, which is expected to be a greater concern in the future; (5) these issues present challenges for airport officials as they attempt to expand their airport's operations to meet the growing demand for air traffic services; (6) airport officials have undertaken a range of activities to more effectively balance airports' current operations and future growth with the environmental impact of these activities; (7) for example, officials from 33 of the 50 busiest commercial service airports reported that they monitor aircraft noise at least daily, and 47 reported that they monitor noise at least occasionally; (8) the survey also provided insights into the federal effort to help airports address their impact on the environment; (9) for example, airport officials said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) effectively assists them in a number of environmental areas and coordinates activities well among its offices; (10) the federal environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 received mixed reviews from airport officials; and (11) however, the majority expressed satisfaction with two of the three levels of environmental review.