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Regulatory: When it comes to airport noise regulation, “Big Brother” is watching you

Local airport operators have few options when regulating noise

With the long awaited passage of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, H.R. 658 (FAA Reauthorization Act), on March 6, 2012, the increasing pace of expansion of both commercial and general aviation airports, and the FAA’s new airspace redesign initiatives to reduce delay, airport noise and its impacts have become an increasingly hot topic.

In the old days, pre-1990, local airport operators, usually constituted of elected local representatives, could impose “reasonable, noise based, nondiscriminatory” regulations such as limits on the noisiest aircraft using the airport, as well as on the hours of operation (curfews). While many local communities currently impacted by noise from runway realignments and changes in approach and departure patterns still pressure their local representatives for relief, since the passage of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 [1] (ANCA), the power to regulate airport noise has become, with very few exceptions, the exclusive province of the federal government. 

Exemptions do exist,[7] but they are case-specific. For example, subsection (d)(4), “a subsequent amendment to an airport noise or access agreement or restriction in effect on Nov. 5, 1990, that does not reduce or limit aircraft operations or affect aircraft safety” applies almost exclusively to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. 

The punishment for any attempt by a local proprietor to evade these restrictions is draconian, including loss of present and future federal funding and denial of the power to impose a “Passenger Facility Charge,” a type of local imposition used by airports directly (rather than through FAA grants) to fund existing and future airport improvements.[8]   

Contributing Author

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Barbara Lichman

Barbara Lichman, Ph.D., is of counsel in the Orange County office of Buchalter Nemer representing public entities, land developers, airlines, airport owners/sponsors, municipalities, ports,...

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