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Burlington International Airport Plans To Finish New F-35 Sound Map In 2019

Andy Poulastides
Eglin Public Affairs
F-35 fighters gets are expected to arrive at the Burlington International Airport in 2019. People living around the airport are wondering how much an impact the noise of the jets will have on the area.

The anticipated arrival of F-35 fighter jets has residents near Burlington International Airport concerned about how much noise the jets will generate. And there have been questions about the availability of sound maps that show how jet noise will affect homes around the airport.

VPR spoke to Nicholas Longo, director of planning and development at Burlington International Airport, to learn more about how the airport uses the sound maps to plan noise mitigation programs.  

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.

VPR: What are sound maps and how does the airport use them?

Longo: “The sound maps are intended to be used by the airport for [getting] federal funding [for] noise mitigation. The airport voluntarily chooses to create the sound maps so we can proceed with mitigation strategies for the next steps of the program into something like the noise insulation program.

“In our noise exposure map documentation, which is all available on the Burlington airport website, it does break down which parcels are included in which town.”

And those parcels we're talking about are not necessarily labeled as, those really should take a buyout. In other words, they could be eligible for this noise mitigation instead?

“What's beautiful is the acquisition program, the line is not changing. Sure, the maps that were produced in 2015 were adjusted based on the F-16 operational characteristics, in this case afterburner use.

“So a few parcels were added to the program, but a few parcels were removed from the program and that line generally has stayed the same since 2006.”

What happens if the buyout program ends, and future sound maps show that some homes will be affected adversely by the F-35?

“So all of these programs are within what's called the noise compatibility program, and that's an official documentation process with the [Federal Aviation Administration].

“What's really nice about that is it's not the airport that's coming up with this program. It's the actual residents that are impacted by these noise contours. Over the course of about 12 to 18 months, we're going to have multiple public meetings on what those next steps are.

“And you're right, the maps do evolve with different aircraft that are at the airport, but the compatibility program generally follows that map and it moves to the new map as well. Again, that communication process will always be with the community, the actual people that are impacted by these noise contour lines.”

But if a family does decide they do want to move post-buyout, are there programs to help families if they want to move due to the noise?

“The acquisition is just one of several programs available. Another program that we want to offer, that the FAA offers, is what's called the sales assistance program.

“So if somebody does feel like they're impacted by these sound impacts of the airport, this sales assistance program would allow them to move, and we can still use the residential property that they move from.

“There's financial benefits as well as part of that program, which again is all funded by the FAA.”

When is the next official is sound map being made, and it will include the noise from the F-35 fighter jets?

“Currently we have in our capital planning process a new sound map in 2018. And we'll probably conclude that new noise map in 2019, the same year that the F-35s arrive — before the F-35s arrive.

“We've heard loud and clear from various members of the community that maybe a new noise map may be beneficial sooner than that. But what's really important is we want to make sure whatever noise map we come out with is useful not only to the residents but ... to [applying] for federal funding to help mitigate noise for those that are impacted within these contour lines.

“So if we come out with a new noise map today with generally unknown data with the F-35, we're going to have to do that again in a few years. And that's something we want to avoid. We want to avoid the confusion of noise maps going back and forth.

“What's really beautiful for land use planning or for just personal planning, the environmental impact statement completed by the Air National Guard is available today and that does show F-35 data.”

But the FAA changed their modeling methods, so is the environmental impact survey still the best map for the city to use for planning purposes?

“That's a great question and we think about that a lot. And you're absolutely right, the Air Force does use one computer model to produce these maps. We use that same model, but we actually combine it with the FAA-approved model.

“So it's an average, so to speak. They [the Air Force] also only use 220 operational days whereas we use 365, a full year.

“So we feel that the environmental impact statement for land use planning or for personal planning as a homeowner is a much greater tool because of those averages ... you can see your effect on the map of the environmental impact statement much greater than you would with the FAA's model."

Great Falls, Montana and Boise, Idaho have both expressed interest in having F-35s based in their communities. Both got unofficial maps modeling how the F-35s could affect the area, for planning purposes. Are there plans for a similar sound maps to be made for South Burlington?

“Most likely not, because we have that environmental impact statement. What's important is those two communities do not have an environmental impact statement. Nor do they have F-35s actually coming to the airport. That was a planning process that they completed to help strategize a way to access the F-35 at their airport.

“We do have the F-35 coming to the airport, and the maps that we come out with, we want to make sure we use them for federal funding. So we have to follow the federal regulations to do so. We very well could be the very first map in the United States to have this federally-regulated program, F-35 data, which could access ... federal funding.

Can you assure people that once the jets arrive, there is going to be an active effort by the airport officials, by the National Guard, to work with residents to do something about what could be a very big big noise problem?

“One hundred percent. We're going to remain 100 percent transparent in this process. We're constantly going to be working with the Air National Guard, constantly going to be working with the community members to come up with the best ways on mitigation efforts and strategies that works with the community, the airport, the Air National Guard and really this entire region.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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