If the FAA reauthorization bill currently under debate in Congress is finally passed in its present form, one provision that it contains could seal the fate of Stage II aircraft operations in the continental U.S., based in part on the efforts of an aviation industry group known as Sound Initiative. Organized in 2004, the coalition of airport executives, government agencies, community organizations and environmentalists contributed language to the House and Senate reauthorization bills that calls for the phase-out of Stage II jets weighing less than 75,000 pounds.
While that language differs slightly between the Senate (S.1451) and House (H.R.915) versions, both envision the eventual prohibition of civil turbojet airplanes of less than 75,000 pounds. The Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 called for the elimination of Stage II aircraft over 75,000 pounds.
“Our objective is to show that airports can do something positive in addressing aircraft noise issues,” said Robert Bogan, deputy executive director of New Jersey’s Morristown Airport (MMU) and one of Sound Initiative’s trustees. A few years ago, in response to noise complaints, Morristown Airport contracted with a consultant to update its noise contours. These are expressed in terms of day-night levels (dnl), a formula the FAA developed based on event averages (night noise events are weighted more heavily) and sound averages. “The threshold of anything [the FAA] wants to do as far as sound abatement stops at the 65 dnl,” Bogan told AIN.
“Anything that is less [the agency doesn’t] want to hear about, so if we have a noise complainer who happens to be in the 55 dnl noise contour, we say, ‘We’re sorry we disturbed you, but consistent with the FAA [’s policy], we can’t do anything for you.’”
Particularly significant to the airport was its 55 dnl contour off the departure end of its Runway 23, which encompassed the majority of the neighboring town of Madison. After conducting public meetings with its neighbors, MMU’s officials determined that 50 to 70 percent of the noise complaints resulted from the operations of transient Stage II airplanes. The airport then calculated the possible results from the elimination of Stage II aircraft. “The 55 dnl shrinks to about half and takes out a lot of the residential area of Madison,” said Bogan. “We thought this was a good idea, and a compelling reason to make a change not in operations but in who used the airport.” Morristown Airport–which was a founding member of Sound Initiative along with the Ohio State University Airport and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey–was not alone in that realization. The coalition today lists 21 other airports among its members, including some that under FAR Part 161 have attempted to ban Stage II jets such as the Falcon 20, Gulfstream II and III, Hawker 125-600/700, Learjet 23/24/25, Lockheed JetStar, Rockwell Sabreliner and Jet Commander.
Natural Stage II Phase-out
The group estimates that 965 Stage II aircraft remain in operation, although how frequently they actually fly in the current business climate is a matter of debate. Since the group began keeping records in 2004, approximately 40 of the jets have left the system every year, and some argue that natural attrition will soon render the legislation moot, as these airplanes will eventually become too expensive to operate and maintain. FAR Part 161 offered individual airports a protocol by which to implement restrictions on Stage II operations. The regulation required airport operators to complete a noise study on the costs and effects of the removal of offending aircraft, and then to notify all interested parties and stakeholders of the comment period. Naples Municipal Airport in Florida was the first to complete the procedure.
Congressional efforts to remove Stage II aircraft weighing less than 75,000 pounds date back to 1999, when Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) sponsored H.R.561: Aircraft Noise Reduction in Certain Metropolitan Areas, which unsuccessfully sought to prohibit Stage II aircraft operations in the top 20 metropolitan areas in the U.S. Several subsequent legislative attempts also met with little success, possibly due to the immediacy of the proposed bans. The current proposed legislation could give aircraft owners a period of time in which to plan for the phase-out. The House legislation provides a date of Dec. 31, 2013, while the Senate version calls for a window of five years from the date of enactment. After that, Stage II aircraft in the contiguous 48 states would either be parked or quieted through the installation of a hushkit to bring them into Stage III compliance, suggested Bogan.
Not every airport would be happy to see the Stage II aircraft go, however. Those airports in remote areas that do not receive frequent noise complaints could, in the language of the Senate bill, “opt-out” of the ban and become sanctuary airports continuing to host Stage II aircraft.