Calling on the Navy to Address Jet Noise
The Navy’s announcement of a preferred alternative that will be released in the upcoming final Environmental Impact Statement for EA-18G Growler airfield operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island represents a significant increase in both flights and noise, particularly for areas around the outlaying field in Coupeville.
I am concerned by the magnitude of change this action would represent for Whidbey Island communities. My constituents deserve more information and answers to our questions. This has always been my philosophy when addressing the impact of Growler noise for Whidbey Island.
In 2014, I established a plan to guide my efforts at reducing the impact of noise from EA-18G Growler jets. To date, I have worked with the community and the Navy to address some of these concerns, while some areas are in need of continued communication and funding. Below are the key areas of concern and where I will continue to focus my efforts.
My support for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island remains steadfast, but folks in Whidbey Island deserve information on how operations will impact their lives in the future.
Helping folks understand the number of Growlers at NASWI
After talking with people on Whidbey Island in 2014, I recognized there was some confusion about the number of Growlers operating at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as well as the capacity for the base to operate at in the future.
Through an op-ed in the Whidbey News-Times and communicating directly with constituents during meetings and through letters, I helped dispel incorrect rumors about the number of Growlers doubling at the base and was able to provide accurate information for the community.
While a final decision has not yet been made about future field carrier landing practice (FCLP) numbers, the Navy’s preferred alternative represents a significant increase in both flights and noise, particularly for areas near the outlying field in Coupeville.
Pushing to reduce noise from engine testing
Engine tests on the ground at Ault Field can be heard across North Whidbey Island and in some parts of the San Juan Islands. While many Navy facilities have specially designed hangars to muffle noise from these activities, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island does not.
Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and I have asked the Navy to fund the construction of a ‘hush house’ at Ault Field and will continue to push for this funding.
We also successfully worked with the Navy to include an assessment of the impacts of a hush house in the EIS.
Advancing technology to reduce engine noise
As technology and research develops, there may be attachments to Growler engines, called chevrons, which muffle jet noise without sacrificing engine performance.
I successfully included language in the 2016 defense authorization law indicating Congressional support for chevron research and putting in place oversight to keep the Navy working on this technology.
The first flight testing took place in 2015, and the Navy found that the current chevron design is successful at quieting engines at most settings, but was less effective at higher power.
The Navy is using this information to work up new, more effective chevron designs and I am working with Rep. Derek Kilmer and others to increase funding for further research in the 2019 spending bill.
Supporting technology to reduce future training flights, maintain training standards
Landing on a carrier is one of the most dangerous tasks in aviation. The Navy rightly requires a significant number of FCLP flights before a pilot can be certified or recertified to deploy aboard a carrier. These practice flights represent almost all of the operations at the outlying field in Coupeville.
I successfully included language in the 2017 defense authorization expressing support for precision landing software, known as MAGIC CARPET, which helps to decrease the number of practice hours required for certification.
As a result of this software, the Navy has reduced its FCLP estimates for Ault Field and OLF Coupeville in the EIS by 20 percent.
Expanding the Navy’s noise measurements to all impacted communities
The Navy performed acoustic modeling and conducted noise measurements on Whidbey Island as part of the EIS process. I asked the Navy to increase its outreach to other communities that are impacted by noise from the base. At my urging, the Navy held a public meeting on Lopez Island to listen to citizens’ concerns about jet noise and answer questions about potential changes to base operations.
Base officials also performed sound tests in areas on Lopez Island and discovered jets flying with landing gear down were significantly louder than those flying with gear down.
The base is now asking pilots to keep their wheels up when flying over Lopez Island to lessen the noise level as conditions allow.
Publicizing flight training schedules for Ault Field
NASWI has long issued a weekly schedule of Growler FCLPs at OLF Coupeville. Community members suggested to me that the base also publish a schedule for FCLPs at Ault Field to try to give people impacted by jet noise from Ault Field this same advanced notice.
I shared this recommendation with base leadership and NASWI now includes the Ault Field FCLP schedule in its weekly release, which can be viewed here.
Expand Sound Monitoring
The more data the Navy and the community have, the easier it is to make informed decisions and develop helpful policies. I will continue to support an increase in the use of noise monitoring to supplement existing noise models. As an example, officials from San Juan County have proactively addressed citizens’ concerns by setting up a database for people to report noise.
In addition, in 2015 the National Park Service performed constant noise monitoring at Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve for one month. This data has been useful for comparison to the modeled noise. I will continue to support expanding the use of sound monitoring.
The Navy’s preferred alternative announcement represents a significant increase in both flights and noise, particularly for areas around the outlying field in Coupeville.
I will be demanding swift answers from the Navy on this departure from the historical distribution of planes and flight patterns at NASWI. I will be asking why less extreme distributions were rejected, if the Navy is willing to commit to mitigation efforts and specifics on how the Navy conducted its noise monitoring.
I have a number of questions about the content of the final EIS, which is not yet public, and I know the Whidbey community does too.
With that in mind, I will continue to work on these issues in the weeks and months to come, including:
Make sound insulation available to families affected by jet noise
Federal programs exist to provide funding for noise insulation for private homes impacted by noise from commercial airports.
I believe eligibility for federal funding should be expanded to include communities impacted by jet noise from military aviation. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to change this policy.
As the representative of the Second Congressional District, I take seriously my responsibility to address concerns, questions and ideas that I hear from my constituents.
I will continue to find ways to mitigate the impacts of noise felt by communities near NASWI.
I remain committed to ensuring the base stays strong and Navy pilots get the training they need while working with community members and the Navy to find collaborative solutions that lessen the disruption that Growler flights cause.