Fall 2002 – Airplane noise abatement: Nothing yet after five years

“This document has been five years in the making, proposes changes impacting only six percent of the entire Miami Airport operation, and nothing’s been achieved,” said Task Force member Patrick McCoy.

For two years members of the Airplane Noise Abatement Task Force had been waiting patiently for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a proposal that would make the first inroads — albeit baby steps — toward establishing a noise abatement program at MIA. The big answer everyone was waiting for would impose noise abatement measures on about six percent of total airplane traffic: flights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., roughly around 40 a night, give or take a few. For the only major city in the entire United States without a noise abatement program, this seemed a small, reasonable way to begin.

Imagine the dismay of Task Force volunteers when they learned that all the while they were awaiting a “decision” by the FAA, that decision had been long-ago pre-empted by airport officials. It turns out that back in April 2000, according to what members of the Task Force recently learned, the Miami Airport Tower Chief had officially filed a letter to the FAA stating the airport’s objections to the steps that were to going to be proposed in the Environmental Assessment. That meant that the FAA wouldn’t even consider the proposal when they received it: there has to be local agreement between the airport and the local FAA chief before the FAA will make a ruling. So, when the Task Force’s Environmental Assessment was delivered to the FAA in Atlanta in December 2000, it was a useless submission. But members of the Task Force didn’t know that, and instead worked with airport officials for months preparing the document and then waited expectantly for something that wasn’t ever going to come. Waited two years.

Task Force members feel duped, to say the least. Afterall, Jeff Bunting, Bruce Drum and other senior officials “in the know” from Miami-Dade Aviation serve on the Task Force.

At the urging of Task Force members, in August the City of Miami hired noise abatement consultant Ray Nugent who has the background and technical expertise to guide the non-aeronautics professionals through the process and look out for their interests. He is in the process of evaluating the airport’s 1,000-page Environmental Impact Statement from which the Environmental Assessment document was created.

Since Nugent’s arrival a few real positive steps have taken place. In September, the local Tower Chief and MIA wrote a letter to the FAA stating that now the noise abatement steps proposed two years ago would be acceptable with a few modifications. The problem is that a lot has happened in the past two years and the assessment might not be current enough for the FAA. Representatives of Miami-Dade Aviation and Patrick McCoy, a 25-year pilot and community activist on the Task Force are going to Atlanta to discuss this with the FAA at the end of October.

“Now that it’s two years old, we really have to figure out where the FAA stands.” McCoy said.

Despite the disappointing delays, the Task Force remains on task, hoping this meeting with the FAA is the beginning of real progress.

From BHA News, Fall 2002, Vol. XII, No. 3