The changes were published in the Federal Register in mid-August. A significant proposed change includes a new guideline that the FAA use what is known as a categorical exclusion to implement NextGen and satellite-based flight procedures – similar to the controversial new takeoff procedure at LaGuardia Airport - across the country.
Current policy calls for changes to new and existing flight patterns that occur under 3,000 feet be subject to an environmental assessment, which would examine the potential impacts on noise and pollution and discuss possible ways to mitigate those factors.
In the case of a categorical exclusion, the agency is not required to do a comprehensive environmental review.
“It is outrageous that the FAA is seeking greater leeway to exempt itself from vital environmental studies which determine whether or not new airplane routes – and the accompanying noise – adversely impact affected communities,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng at a press conference in Bayside on Tuesday.
A categorical exclusion was issued in October of 2012 to allow for the increased use of a takeoff procedure out of LaGuardia known as the TNNIS IV (“pronounced “tennis”) climb.
Since its implementation, residents across northeast Queens have been complaining to the FAA and Port Authority about an increase in noise from overhead airplanes.
In a letter to the head of the FAA, Meng and representatives Steve Israel and Joseph Crowley called on Administrator Michael Huerta to exempt the two New York airports from plans to broaden categorical exclusions to allow the process to be used for nearly every change in a flight pattern.
“The fact that the FAA is even considering abandoning such studies as part of its routine is appalling and, quite frankly, insulting to the residents of Queens and the Bronx, who know the flight schedules about as well as the air traffic controllers simply because they hear the rumble of each and every plane that goes by,” said Crowley.
This particular use of a categorical exclusion was actually mandated by Congress when it passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to expedite the implementation of NextGen and satellite-based procedures without having them held up in lengthy environmental reviews.
Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Peter King were the only area federal lawmakers to vote for that bill.
The FAA has been pushing the implementation of the NextGen procedures, stating that it will cut down on delays and make airports more efficient, as well as conserve jet fuel.
“We have heard many amorphous, high-sounding reasons put forth for allowing the aviation industry to avoid responsibility for the noise and pollution caused by these new procedures: reduced fuel consumption, progress and fewer flight delays are among them,” said Janet McEneaney, a co-founder of Queens Quiet Skies. “But we haven’t seen any proof that subjecting people on the ground to more noise and pollution will accomplish any of those goals.”
The public has until September 30 to comment on the proposed changes, at which point the FAA will decide whether to adopt them as official policy.