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GAO discussed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) implementation of its Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP), which revised air traffic control routes and procedures to reduce delays in the three major airports in the New York metropolitan area. GAO found that: (1) although phase 1 of EECP, which created new air routes and revised others, significantly reduced flight delays, it increased aircraft noise over some northern and central New Jersey residents' homes; (2) because of other significant operating changes, EECP was not necessarily the sole reason for the reduction in delays at the airports; (3) the complaints focused on increased aircraft noises, increased numbers of flights, lower altitudes, and late night overflights; (4) an FAA study showed 144 flights passed within 2.5 nautical miles of one community at between 5,000 and 14,000 feet, at an average noise level which was substantially below federal guidelines; (5) the New Jersey Port Authority's noise survey contractor plans to use citizen complaint data, which could prove inadequate; and (6) FAA exempted EECP from an environmental assessment, since the proposed changes would take place 3,000 feet or more above ground, and it did not anticipate the noise or controversy. GAO believes that FAA should: (1) prepare an environmental assessment; and (2) do similar assessments before making major air route changes in other areas.

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