John Q. Public wants to fly. He wants to fly in more numbers now than ever before. Forecasters explain that these numbers show no sign of decreasing in the near future. The only drawback to the industry is that the system is already saturated and bulging. As the demand to fly continues to 'take-off', it is bringing with it serious delay, capacity, and environmental concerns. These issues must be addressed and answered before we can expand the aviation infrastructure. Airport planners have several attainable ways to accommodate and alleviate the major concerns to the system, but everyone of them are facing fierce opposition from those that feel they, and their communities, will be adversely affected.
New runways, or extensions, have been proposed at 60 of the top 100 airports that lead in the number of annual enplanements. Studies for new airports have been conducted in New York, Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, and Miami, to name a few (Wells, 1996). For nearly every organization that is steadfast on building or expanding existing airports, there are a growing number of coalitions that oppose their ideas and are ready to challenge them.
Most are local groups and communities that are confronting the governmental bodies in their own areas; but there are a number of national groups and even world-wide groups forming. With the availability of the World Wide Web, they are uniting in larger numbers and communicating their concerns with global reach. Pointing your web browser in the direction of any area proposing expansion and you will find numerous local groups and coalitions fighting to dismiss it.
One such group is Sane Aviation For Everyone, Inc. (SAFE). This is a coalition of independent citizens groups and individuals in the New York City metropolitan area. SAFE is dedicated to stopping and reversing the environmental and health impacts of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports. Vocal on many of the environmental problems caused by airports, they are extremely upset about a recent decision to bring more aircraft through the airports in their area (SAFE Home Page, 1998). In January '98, airlines were given exemptions to slot limitations, adding 21 additional daily operations at the airport despite a federally enacted 'High Density Rule' that places limits on the number of flights into and out of Kennedy, LaGuardia, and other major airports (Bertrand, 1998). SAFE is currently looking to expand their scope to deal nationally and internationally with the aircraft noise issue.
Some groups are set up for a specific cause, like that of the Airport Communities Coalition (ACC) in Seattle, Washington. They are opposing a proposal to add a third runway to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). It was formed in 1993 because thousands of people living there claim that building a third runway would seriously diminish the quality of life in their communities and further pollute their air and water (ACC Home Page, 1998).
The Seattle area also host the site of the Regional Commission on Airport Affairs (RCAA). The RCAA is a non-profit coalition of citizen groups and cities. They believe that further expansion of Sea-Tac Airport makes no sense, costs too much, and does too much damage to too many people. They favor demand management of the airport and support alternatives to expansion such as high speed rail. They also are addressing airport noise, air, and water pollution issues. The purpose of their Home Page is to provide citizens in King County, Washington State with the latest information on airport issues but, imperatively, they are providing citizens in airport impacted communities world-wide, with information and communication. They have an impressive supporting library and extensive links to other sites around the country (RCAA Home Page, 1998).
One of the largest groups is the US-Citizens Aviation Watch (US-CAW). They are a national organization comprised of local airport groups, environmental organizations, and civic groups. They are concerned about noise, environment, public health and other quality of life issues related to aviation operations. While claiming to be a 'national' association, they are linked with established organizations in 26 countries throughout the world. US-CAW's mission is to unite organizations and municipalities. Coalitions are forming from coast to coast. Their goal is to represent the interest of individual citizens (US-CAW Home Page, 1998).
The focus of these coalitions is not limited to just opposing new airports or expansion issues. In areas where our military forces are drawing down, a viable option to building a new airport would be to convert a closing military airfield. Local residents have even put up resistance in this endeavor. One example is the growing concern over converting the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, California. The residents there have put up an impressive opposition Internet site to keep everyone informed on the issues. This Internet access affords the on-line populous, growing by millions each year, to be a key stroke away from getting involved. Their business and homeowner associations of the El Toro Coalition (ETC) favor non-aviation reuses for the field because there are at least eight airports with medium and long haul capability (five of which are international) within a 100 mile radius of El Toro (ETC Home Page, 1998).
Another example is where the Department of Defense (DOD) is considering transferring what was once Homestead Air Reserve Base to Dade County, FL. County officials plan to develop an international "hub" airport serving South Florida and competing directly with Miami International Airport. In response to the proposed airport development project, a coalition of the country's top environmental advocacy organizations successfully mobilized in an effort to persuade the White House to save Everglades National Park and other unique ecological treasures in the area (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1998). The project is now on hold.
It doesn't mater where, why, or who is opposing expanding aviation infrastructure, the issues are the same across their tally sheets. You don't have to be an environmental expert to understand there is an impact from aviation on a community. Air and water pollution, the impact on land values, health, and quality of life are all major issues. The most apparent environmental issue is that of noise and it appears to rank as the number one concern from opposition groups.
No matter how well an airport serves its community, one of the most common complaints is the noise it produces. It has been the greatest barrier to building a new airport or its expansion (Wells, 1996). Opposition groups contend that airport noise is not just a minor annoyance that people living near airports should be 'good sports' about and learn to ignore. Outside of the fact that it is a shear nuisance, aircraft noise may be posing more of a health problem than it suggest.
In a study by the Health Subcommittee of the Environmental Impact Committee of the Regional Coalition on Airport Affairs, Dr. Dennis Hansen reported that airport noise results in a significant increase in community use of tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Airport communities have an increased rate of alcoholism, and admissions to psychiatric hospitals. He states airport related noise can literally drive people mad, has been positively associated with the development of hypertension, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, all of which place people at increased risk of heart disease and stroke (Hansen, 1992).
Another study has been linked to aircraft noise and sleep depravation. It has been argued that suburban residents desire a noise level no higher than 30 decibels (dB) at night when they sleep. The maximum noise level from an aircraft taking off would be approximately 90 dB. A noise level of 90 dB is roughly equivalent to that of a power mower outdoors. At least 75 percent of sleeping people will be awakened if exposed to noise levels over 74 dB. More importantly, over 50 percent of people will not be able to go to sleep if exposed to noise levels higher than 74 dB. The resulting sleep deprivation would potentially affect over 100,000 to 700,000 people living in the communities surrounding a commercial airport (Walther, 1997).
Chronic noise is also having a devastating effect on the academic performance of children in noisy homes and schools. Cornell University researchers have confirmed that children in schools bombarded by frequent aircraft noise don't learn to read as well as children in quiet schools. The one major reason they have discovered is that the kids tune out speech in the racket (Science Daily, 1998). Speech and communication are affected when noise levels exceed 60 decibels. Excessively noisy schools have been shown to adversely affect the ability to solve simple problems as well as to learn mathematics and reading (Lang, 1997).
The Airport and Airways Development Act of 1970 established a requirement that airport sponsors must afford the opportunity for public hearings for projects involving the location of an airport, a new runway or extension (Wells, 1996). This Act legally affords opposition groups the opportunity to voice their concerns and be represented in the proper forum.
Implementation of operational airport noise abatement strategies is the airport's responsibility. The DOD took an early lead in working toward airport compatibility in 1973 with policies concerning public and private land in the vicinity of military airfields. The military's Air Installation Compatible Land Use Zones program evolved into the government's program for Noise Control And Compatibility Planning For Airports (AC 150/5020-1), or what have become commonly known as 'FAR Part 150 Studies.' (Gesell, 1992)
These Noise and Land Use Compatibility Studies consider and evaluate programs to reduce the impact of airport noise on communities. Through fiscal year 1998, there are currently 235 airports participating in the program, 217 airports have received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants for Part 150 studies, and 193 have been approved for Noise Compatibility Programs (FAA, 1998).
Aircraft noise is also being reduced through technological advances and procedural techniques. Engineers have designed quieter engines and made airframe modifications, but opposition groups feel a lot more needs to be done. Aircraft designers feel they are at a point where any further advances will be technically difficult, very costly, and degrade aircraft performance (Wells, 1996). With the growth of aviation at its current rate, numbers of flights are going to increase. This can only mean more noise, even if it is a little quieter.
Deregulation of the airline industry has changed the way companies do business. The turning point was the Airline Deregulation Act, approved by Congress on Oct. 24, 1978 and signed into law by President Carter. Many of the benefits are positive, for instance lower fares and more choices. This has created a massive impact and dramatic increase in the number of passengers throughout the system. Domestic and international air travel have grown by staggering proportions over the last several decades, and that growth is expected to continue.
Citing President Clinton's policies and the third longest economic expansion since World War II, Secretary of Transportation, Rodney E. Slater, announced that U.S. airlines have recorded a third straight year of strong growth; an encouraging sign that a continued upward trend is expected into the 21st Century. That announcement came on the heels of the release of the FAA's commercial aviation forecast, which revealed that an unprecedented 605 million people flew on the nation's air carriers in 1996 with enplanements expected to grow to nearly one billion by 2008 (Slater, 1997).
Technological advances, developments in commerce and marketing and continuing changes in the airline industry are likely to fuel this growth. However, this projected growth will be impossible unless we adequately invest in the infrastructure to support it. The national airport system is the heart of that infrastructure. Failure to invest in needed capacity-enhancing projects, such as additional runways, runway extensions or new airport construction would severely hamper the growth of the industry and ultimately undermine the ability of our nation to compete in the global economy.
Noise pollution affects millions of Americans, but citizens disturbed by aircraft noise constitute one of the most vocal groups speaking out against noise. Opposition groups like the Regional Commission on Airport Affairs and the US-Citizens Aviation Watch are growing in strength and have the potential of global reach through the World Wide Web.
Airport noise can seriously affect the health and psychological well-being of those effected, especially when continued exposure is present. It has been the greatest barrier to building a new airport or its expansion. The government is not standing idly by. Many programs such as the Noise and Land Use Compatibility Studies have been put into action and are making funds available to help alleviate the problems in communities hardest hit.
Aviation enplanements are growing. Forecasters are predicting that traffic shows no sign of decreasing well into the new century. This projected growth will be impossible unless we adequately invest in the infrastructure to support it.