BOX 1-1 Federal Responsibilities

In general, the EPA is responsible for the establishment and enforcement of U.S. environmental protection standards consistent with national environmental goals. For aircraft, however, the FAA is responsible for enforcing EPA clean air standards—by issuing Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that define how clean air standards will be applied to specific aircraft (Clean Air Act of 1970, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §7571).

With regard to standards for noise and sonic boom, the EPA must submit proposed aircraft noise control regulations to the FAA. The FAA then seeks public comment and either issues new regulations or publishes a notice explaining why new regulations are not appropriate. In making such a decision, the FAA must consider whether the standard or regulation proposed by the EPA is “consistent with the highest degree of safety in air transportation . . . [and] economically reasonable, technologically practicable, and appropriate for the applicable aircraft” (Noise Control Act of 1972, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §4902; and 49 U.S.C. §44715).

The role of NASA is to increase the range of options that are technologically feasible. NASA is charged with conducting aeronautical research and development, including long-range studies of potential problems and benefits, to preserve “the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical . . . technology.” NASA is also expected to “carry out a comprehensive program of research, technology, and monitoring of the phenomena of the upper atmosphere so as to provide for an understanding of and to maintain the chemical and physical integrity of the Earth’s upper atmosphere.” Industry and academia are expected to participate in this research, and the results are to be given to appropriate regulatory agencies to assist them in generating new standards and regulations (National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §2451).

warned that “environmental issues are likely to impose the fundamental limitation on air transportation growth in the 21st century” (NSTC, 1995). In response, federal agencies have identified noise and emissions targets for the next few decades and are pursuing a research agenda intended to achieve the linked goals of supporting the growth of aviation and reducing environmental impacts. The present report offers recommendations intended to increase the effectiveness of that agenda and the associated research efforts.


The adverse environmental effects of jet aircraft are primarily a consequence of the combustion of petroleum. Jet fuel is largely carbon and hydrogen, and so combustion releases carbon dioxide (CO2). Other gases, including oxides of nitrogen (NOx), are also produced by chemical interactions with the air flowing through the engine. Water vapor emitted by the engine combines with water vapor already

FIGURE 1-1 Environmental issues that most concern officials at the 50 busiest U.S. airports. SOURCE: GAO, 2000.

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