Aviation Ain’t Noise Pollution
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
In the mid-1980s, London's Marquee Club was a popular, busy nightclub nestled near a residential area and hosted some of the biggest up and coming acts of the time. However, some neighbors not particularly fond of the late-night music scene began to make multiple complaints about the frequent noise of the bands' performances. While the well-known band AC/DC based it's hit song, "Rock n Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" off this incident, the club eventually was forced to close at that location in 1998.
While the AC/DC tune can be fun to sing in the car, the point being made is similar to one existing in aviation and one that raises some significant concerns for the business aviation community in particular. With business aviation aircraft more frequently flying into rural areas and smaller airfields, these locations are often where the biggest disagreements and complaints tend to arise.
Currently, the state of New York is seeking a bill known as "Stop the Chop" granting anyone suffering from an "unreasonable level" of rotary wing aviation noise the right to sue pilots, flight departments, line service personnel, or any company employee for the perceived infraction, even if the operation complied with all federal laws and regulations.
In Broomfield, Colorado, noise complaints about the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport have increased nearly ten-fold over the last seven years. While community roundtables have been held to discuss the impact of the noise issues and seek mitigation opportunities, many residents still are calling to shut the airport down as a solution.
Some airfields have attempted to adjust air patterns to ease complaints but have often done so with little success as traffic patterns tend to be determined based on wind conditions, obstructions, and other factors that cannot be altered for the sake of noise.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has nine regional offices in the United States dedicated to responding to aviation noise, pollution, and safety. The published FAA policy, found here, says the FAA "does not use noise complaints, including the volume of noise complaints, to justify the need to alter current practices or alter existing procedures or routes." After all, noise is inconvenient, but air traffic patterns that cause accidents, injuries, or death are far worse.
But it does raise the question of how pilots or aircrews can be better stewards of the community when it comes to noise. Certainly, town halls have been utilized extensively to create understanding between the neighbors' right to a peaceful home and the business community's right to operate freely and responsibly in the same area.
In 2013, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) enacted a new standard in noise reduction that stipulates new aircraft models need to be at least seven decibels quieter than those built to the previous standard. This is a small start to ensuring the quietest technology will be used on future aircraft.
Until that time, there is a precarious balance between the aviation industry's desire to shorten routes to reduce fuel burn while at the same time increasing noise complaints by transitioning over heavily populated areas. Air traffic controllers can do their best to vector planes in the most preferred take off and landing directions, but unfortunately, Mother Nature always gets a vote.
There is no easy solution to this problem and the dilemma is not likely to wane with time. Still, as pilots, we should do our best to be considerate of our neighbors, listen proactively to their concerns, and be respectful stewards of our own right to flight.