Nearly a decade of effort from residents and legislators fighting to mitigate airport noise in residential areas has reached a new milestone with the introduction of eight congressional bills aiming to limit harm for people who live beneath flight paths.
“For years, constituents have lived with the scourge of airport noise,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who sponsored the bills, in a statement. “One sleepless night after another takes a significant toll on an individual’s physical health, mental health and emotional well-being.”
While some of the legislation is non-binding in nature (and must still pass the House, Senate and get the president’s signature before becoming law) it lays important groundwork on rules for which local communities have long been calling.
The bills include requiring communities to be notified of flight path changes, elevating the prioritization of noise and health impacts to residents within the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing airports to establish noise curfews, requiring the FAA to answer questions from Congress and establishing standards and remedies related to ground-based noise.
A bill specific to San Francisco International Airport would establish a program to noise-insulate 200 homes per year or provide financial support to cities affected by noise. Another would support the continuance of proposed departure rerouting to avoid flying over residential areas from both SFO and Oakland International Airport.
The introduction of the bills comes after the release of a survey by the FAA which found that people are increasingly annoyed by aircraft noise. The survey, which was sent to 10,000 people living near airports, found that five times as many people report being “highly annoyed” by aircraft noise than in 1992, the last time the study was conducted.
Despite aircraft becoming quieter and fewer people living near airports than in the past, according to the FAA, air traffic has increased. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the study indicated they were “highly annoyed” by aircraft noise.
According to Speier, the result of the study “showed what so many already knew to be true: residents are annoyed by airplane noise levels far lower than the FAA uses for its current minimum standards.”
“San Francisco and Peninsula residents are long overdue for some relief from the constant barrage of flights overhead,” Speier said in a statement.
A key agitator has been the implementation of NextGen in 2014, a satellite-based air traffic control system which has seen the rerouting of some flights over residential areas on the Peninsula.
“When the FAA first implemented NextGen, SFO reported a more than 1,000 percent increase in noise complaints,” U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, a co-sponsor of the bills, said in a statement. “Because of the FAA’s inability to act, the need for legislation is urgent.”
Alongside noise from large airports, residents near San Carlos Airport have long expressed frustration over noise from Surf Air, which began using the airport in 2013 for its pay-per-month flight service in small planes. Surf Air has since reduced its use of the airport.
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