City Council votes to support study on health impacts of airplane overflights


The Des Moines City Council by unanimous vote has agreed to include Sea-Tac Airport in new federal legislation that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to study the health impacts of airplane flights on residents of certain metropolitan areas.

If adopted, H.R. 598 (the “Airplane Impacts Mitigation Act of 2017” or the “AIM Act of 2017”) requires the FAA to contract with universities to study the health impacts of airplane flights on residents exposed to a range of noise and air pollution levels, specifically including asthma exacerbation, sleep disturbance, stress, and elevated blood pressure.

Critically, the AIM Act targets the specific health impacts from “the physical implementation of the NextGen RNAV program on flights departing from or arriving at an international airport.” The Act identifies five metropolitan areas for study (Boston, Chicago, New York, Northern California and Phoenix), and provides for three additional metropolitan areas to be chosen by the FAA.

The AIM Act was addressed by the Des Moines Council as an “emerging issues” in a surprise, three-minute, 38-second period during a work study session on Thursday, April 6, 2017:

Referencing the effort to mitigate impacts of aircraft noise and health impacts from NextGen protocols, City Manager Michael Matthias stated:

“So what we prepared is a letter to Congressman Adam Smith, with a copy to Congressman [Stephen] Lynch [D-Mass]… indicating our interest in Sea-Tac being included in this study and the support for the legislation itself.”

The Des Moines Chapter of the National Quiet Skies Coalition – which has been critical of the Council’s lack of action over the past four months – applauded the move.

“By supporting this federal legislation, the City of Des Moines boldly joins other leadership around the country that challenge the notion that economic development and efficiencies benefiting the aviation industry can move forward without first fully understanding and addressing the negative impacts upon residents of airport communities,” said Steve Edmiston, Des Moines resident and QSPS member.

“Des Moines has now joined with AIM Act prime sponsor Congressman Lynch, who states about Act, ‘While the RNAV procedures of the NextGen system can increase efficiency, the neighborhoods lying beneath flight paths experience extended periods of aircraft noise and exposure to air pollutants, raising health implications and negatively impacting the quality of life for local families,’ and ‘The FAA must put airplane-related health impacts above jet fuel economy as they try to optimize flight path efficiency … The AIM Act is an important step towards ensuring that local communities are heard and the FAA is held accountable for its policies.’ As residents of Des Moines, we know there is much more to do, and we look forward to more action by the Council. However, this is a great step and demonstrates a willingness by the City to put health first and take a position to protect our community even if it results in opposing Port of Seattle, SeaTac Airport, and FAA growth plans. The fact that Mayor Pina stated ‘I think this is a really good thing for us to get behind’ is encouraging,” Edmiston added.

Congressmen Smith and Lynch are both members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, which seeks to raise awareness of the impact of aircraft noise, hold the FAA accountable to the concerns of local communities, and find meaningful legislative and administrative solutions to reduce airplane noise. The caucus consists of members of Congress from across the country whose constituents are severely impacted by the FAA’s NextGen flight system.

Quiet Skies Puget Sound (“QSPS”) is holding a forum on April 26, 2017, at 6:30 p.m., at Mt. Rainier High School, to discuss the new fight paths, related noise, the status of NextGen flight procedures, and the overall impacts on human health and the environment [download PDF flier here]. As reported here previously, QSPS has invited the Des Moines City Council to attend the forum and participate in a question and answer segment. The group still has not received a confirmation of attendance from any member of the Des Moines Council.

“We hope to hear more from the Council about their support of the AIM Act at the forum,” said Edmiston.

Quiet Skies Puget Sound is the 29th chapter of the National Quiet Skies Coalition (https://nqsc.org/).  The Des Moines group works with citizen groups all over the Puget Sound region, including the Burien Quiet Skies Coalition.


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