IT'S HAPPENING ACROSS THE COUNTRY, from Boston to San Francisco, and airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration don't like it a bit.
Local authorities are attempting to reduce noise pollution around their
airports with late night curfews and prohibitions against certain types of aircraft. Officials are under tremendous community pressure to impose such restrictions. The FAA worries that the situation is getting out of hand. Local airport access rules that go too far could impede the free and efficient flow of commerce, both domestic and international. They could affect the economies of communities beyond those imposing the restrictions, and force residents around unrestricted airports to suffer the noise of jets displaced by some other city's rules.With prodding from the airlines, FAA Administrator Donald Engen is considering new regulations to counter what he's described as a threat to the integrity of the nation's air transportation system. He says publicly he has no intention of assuming new powers for the FAA, or of strong-arming airports on the issue of noise.
But operators are anxious. They worry the regulations, which are not final, might subject local airport access rules to federal review prior to implementation, and that the FAA will threaten to withhold grant money from
airports that do not stay in line on the noise issue.
Such a situation already has developed in San Francisco, where officials earlier this year told Burlington Northern Air Freight it could not land a 707 freighter at San Francisco International Airport because it makes too much noise. The FAA ordered the airport to lift the restriction and threatened to
cut off nearly $40 million in federal funds the airport is supposed to receive for improvements.
Airport officials say the FAA is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong and has never been.
In the past, federal officials recognized the right of local authorities to determine the scope of air service in their communities and to set noise- related restrictions. The idea of a national noise standard is appealing, but impractical in light of local differences.
Both sides in this ongoing debate make excellent points. On balance, however, the airports make the better case. The FAA and the airlines worry about something that hasn't really happened. Local airport access rules have caused some inconvenience, but have not disrupted the flow of passengers and goods in any major way.
Airports, on the other hand, are under the gun to reduce noise. They face lawsuits from local residents. They are liable for damages when aircraft noise drives down local property values. They should be free to take steps to protect themselves.
What's more, the FAA and the airlines are not totally helpless to fight unreasonable access restrictions under current law. They have recourse to the courts, if local restrictions are discriminatory or really do impede the free flow of commerce to the detriment of national interests.
This may be another inconvenience to the carriers. But the burden of proof should remain with them, and the FAA, to show why community-driven noise restrictions are unreasonable.