By Rep. Rick Larsen
I am working on a long-term plan to respond to people’s concerns about jet noise out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. While my support for NASWI remains steadfast, I am also committed to partnering with community members and the Navy to address the impacts of noise across the north Puget Sound. It is important to me to address my constituents’ concerns and the needs of the Navy to find collaborative solutions. I began working on a seven point plan in late 2014. I want to summarize progress I have made to help mitigate the impact of jet noise while ensuring our Navy pilots get the training they need. A more detailed update is available on my website: www.larsen.house.gov.
Explaining the number of Growlers at NASWI: After hearing confusion from people about the number of Growlers flying out of NASWI, I dispelled rumors and clarified accurate information by communicating with constituents. There are 82 Growlers flying out of NASWI. The number of Growlers to be based at NASWI in the future will be determined by the ongoing Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Reducing noise from engine testing: Senator Patty Murray and I asked the Navy to fund the construction of a ‘hush house’ at Ault Field, an acoustic hangar to dampen the sound of on-ground engine testing. We also pushed successfully for the Navy to include the impacts of a hush house in the EIS.
Advancing technology to reduce engine noise: Ongoing research may produce attachments to Growler engines, called chevrons, that could muffle jet noise without sacrificing engine performance. I included language in the 2016 defense policy bill supporting the research and putting in place oversight to keep the Navy working on this technology. The Navy is using information from the first round of tests to work up new, more effective chevron designs. I will continue to track progress of this research.
Reducing future training flights safely: The Navy rightly requires a significant number of Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs) before a pilot can deploy on board a carrier. Navy engineers are developing software that could improve pilot safety and reduce the amount of training pilots need by increasing automation. I included language in a draft of the 2017 defense policy bill last week to advance the Navy’s work on this software and maintain the momentum behind using technology to improve pilot training and safety.
Expanding Navy’s noise measurements: At my urging, the Navy held a public meeting on Lopez Island to listen to citizens’ concerns about jet noise and answer questions. Base officials performed informal sound tests last year in areas on Lopez Island and discovered a significant noise difference between jets flying with landing gear up versus down. The base now directs pilots to keep their wheels up when conditions allow until they are over water when they are flying approaches that go over Lopez Island to lessen the noise level.
Publicizing flight training schedules for Ault Field: Community members have suggested to me that the base 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 have shared this recommendation with base leadership and will continue asking them to pursue this proposal.
Using community data to understand noise impacts in the San Juans: Residents on the San Juans experience jet noise, and officials from San Juan County have proactively addressed citizens’ concerns by setting up a database for people to report noise. I am working to facilitate communication between the community and the Navy to ensure data are collected in a way that is maximally useful.
I take seriously my responsibility to address issues that I hear from my constituents. Some of the strategies I am pursuing will take time. I am also open to other ideas that people have to lessen the jet noise impacts.
I remain committed to upholding NASWI as a premier naval asset. I continue to support the Growler aircraft, their crews and the FCLPs at OLF Coupeville. We can take steps to uphold the base’s critical role in our national defense while lessening disruptions that Growlers cause for residents. I will keep working on collaborative solutions.