By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Hope is nice now and then—don’t expect results tomorrow, but maybe next year?
If you like an occasional look ahead—toward a world with quieter aircraft—read the August 14-September 3 issue of Aviation Week.* In an article entitled “Sound Barrier: Noise is emerging as the biggest challenge to high-density urban air-taxi operations,” the magazine’s managing editor for technology, Graham Warwick writes about what NASA (and yes, Uber) are doing to build a future of inter-urban transport. Are you ready to imagine “Air-Uber”?
The key is convincing municipal governments that these air-taxis will be quiet(er) than conventional aircraft. So note the term “eVTOL” (Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing craft, or distributed electric-propulsion vehicles). That’s right, they’re electric. This is the likely future of quieter, low-emission air transport—and as the video above proves, it’s no joke.
Do we really need eVTOL air-taxis? That depends on what “we” means. At any rate, it turns out the kink in this scenario is the noise problem: so switching to quiet eVTOLs is a prerequisite to getting this air-taxi fleet off the ground in urban areas. Hence, NASA has taken on the noise issue—at last! (NOT the FAA—which is a good thing overall since FAA has steadfastly resisted doing anything at all about noise for decades).
Meanwhile back in the real world, why can’t American airports and airlines simply encourage adoption of the new Pratt & Whitney quiet jet engine that is already in use in the UK and EU (the PW1100G geared turbofan). It’s supposed to be 75% quieter and 15% to 20% more fuel-efficient than conventional jet engines. Furthermore, Airbus has already installed the Pratt & Whitney engine on it’s new A320neo aircraft and 90 of them have already been delivered to 11 airlines (only two of which are American: Spirit and Frontier). Another issue of Aviation Week* reported favorably on the launch of this new, quieter aircraft and cited one source as saying “[t]he A320neo is now the quietest aircraft.”
There are plenty of Airbus planes in the fleets of US-based airlines, so let’s urge airlines to order a few more and retire their noisy fleets of aging aircraft! Airbus is set to deliver 200 more of them this year.
Sadly, the FAA is not going to get out in front of the noise issue anytime soon. They continue to insist that while noise may be “annoying” to some people, they won’t let that get in the way of the roll-out of their NextGen program—despite the fact that NextGen is precisely the program that has so enraged the three dozen members of Congress who formed the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 36 communities across the USA that have formed the National Quiet Skies Coalition.
Take a look at this recent presentation given by the FAA to the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus: FAA Powerpoint PDF.
Doesn’t sound like they’re in any rush to quiet down America’s airports, does it? So I’m betting on NASA’s approach, i.e., electrically powered aircraft and “alternative solutions”—such as convincing airlines to stock their fleets with Airbus planes. Maybe the competition will finally wake up Boeing and GE and they’ll realize that some of us understand that noise is much more than “annoyance,” it’s a public health issue.
*Sorry, you’ll either have to subscribe to Aviation Week online or read it in the library.
In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.